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Vale Joy McKean OAM

Story Published Friday 26 May 2023
Joy McKean received the Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music at the 2021 APRA Music Awards. Photo by Tony Mott.

Vale Joy McKean OAM, the 'Grand Lady of Country Music' has passed away at age 93.

We are saddened by the news that Joy McKean, the ‘Grand Lady of Country Music’ has died. Her music career spanned nine decades, starting with the sister duo the McKean Sisters performing on the radio in the 1940s to co-writing 'I Don’t Believe You' with her grandson and granddaughter-in-law's band, A Small Town Romance, in 2020.

Joy was honoured with the Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music in 2021. She joined APRA in 1951, the same year she married fellow country singer Slim Dusty. Joy composed some of country music’s most celebrated songs including The Biggest Disappointment, Ringer from the Top End, Walk a Country Mile and Indian Pacific.

One of Slim's most popular songs, ‘Lights on the Hill,’ was written by Joy during a drive on a stormy night and won Joy the first ever Golden Guitar Award at Tamworth Country Music Festival in 1973.

Joy is a two-time APRA Music Awards nominee: in 1987 for Most Performed Australasian Country Work nominee for 'Lights on the Hill' and in 1999 for Most Performed Country Work for 'Biggest Disappointment.' With the latter, Joy became the oldest APRA Music Awards nominee at 69 years old.

Joy managed Slim's career for over 50 years, until his death in 2003. A formidable music industry figure, Joy was co-founder of the Tamworth Country Music Festival and the Country Music Association of Australia, and helped to establish the Slim Dusty Foundation Ltd, which operates the Slim Dusty Centre in Slim’s home town of Kempsey, NSW.

Tamworth Music Festival celebrated Joy's 90th birthday in 2021 at the sold-out Concert for Joy with performances by Paul Kelly, Troy Cassar-Daley, Kasey Chambers, Felicity Urquhart and many more, including Joy and Slim’s singer-songwriter children Anne Kirkpatrick and David Kirkpatrick and many of Joy’s grandchildren.

She accepted her Ted Albert Award at the 2021 APRA Music Awards surrounded by family and celebrated by the industry. Joy said about the honour, "After what has been a lifetime of working in the music industry, and loving just about every minute of it, I find it fascinating to reflect on the changes that have taken place."

Dean Ormston, Chief Executive, APRA AMCOS:

I had the privilege of meeting Joy on her 90th birthday in Tamworth. A vibrant, exuberant woman, she talked passionately about songwriting, and I asked her if she had any advice for young women songwriters. She thought for a moment, and said, " Just get out there and do it!" A writer and co-writer of songs that have become part of the Aussie songbook. Vale Joy Kean, a national treasure.

Jenny Morris, Chair, APRA Board:

I am so saddened to hear that Joy is no longer here. It’s not often you meet such a special human and Joy was that. She was a wise woman of our music tribe brimming with integrity, moral fiber and excellent song writing chops.

I feel for Anne and David and I send my love to them. It’s hard losing a mother, and especially hard losing such a legendary one.

Rest in peace dear Joy and thank you for the music.

We extend our condolences to Joy family, friends and many fans. She will be greatly missed.

Slim Dusty - 'Lights on the Hill'
Written by Joy McKean

Joy McKean, 2021 Ted Albert Award recipient