Australian country music pioneer Joy McKean has died, aged 93

She was responsible for writing some of Slim Dusty's biggest hits including 'Lights on the Hill'

Australian country music icon Joy McKean OAM has died, aged 93.

Her death was confirmed via record label EMI Records in a press statement today (May 26). Per EMI Records, McKean’s death comes “after a long battle with cancer”. She reportedly died “peacefully last night with family by her side”.

McKean was an acclaimed country singer-songwriter who started her journey in music in the 1940s, going on to become one of Australia’s most prominent country writers. She also wrote for and managed her former husband Slim Dusty.

Joy McKean is survived by her children Anne Kirkpatrick and David Kirkpatrick, 4 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren.

Over the course of her relationship and partnership with Slim Dusty, McKean penned many of Slim Dusty’s most famous songs including ‘Lights on the Hill’, ‘Walk A Country Mile’, ‘Indian Pacific’, ‘Kelly’s Offsider’, ‘The Angel of Goulburn Hill’ and ‘The Biggest Disappointment’.

McKean won the first Golden Guitar award in 1973 at the Tamworth Country Music Festival for ‘Lights on the Hill’. She would go on to win the award a whipping 45 times over the course of her life.

McKean was also inducted into the Australian Roll of Renown in 1983.

In 2020, a documentary film titled Slim and I was released, and chronicled McKean’s life and relationship with Slim Dusty. The film focused on “the incredible story of that partnership and of the brilliant woman who lived beside, rather than behind, the legend”. Slim and I won the Best Australian Film award at that year’s virtual edition of the Gold Coast Film Festival.

Following the news of Joy McKean’s death, singer-songwriter Fanny Lumsden took to Twitter to pay tribute to the late icon.

“What an icon. Someone I didn’t even realise I was following in the path of until quite recently. (I know, shameful). But I will draw strength from as I continue to play halls throughout regional aus, sharing stories, running a business & a family. Thank you Joy,” Lumsden wrote.

The Tamworth Country Music Festival wrote: “Her immeasurable contributions to the world of music and unwavering passion for storytelling have left an indelible mark on our hearts. Today, we join countless others in mourning the loss of an extraordinary talent.”

Beccy Cole said in her tribute: “She was a pioneer, she showed us that women can be talented, creative and strong back in a time when that belief wasn’t as popular. She was kind and helpful to young artists, 30 years ago, I was one of them. Slim would agree when I say Joy McKean is the reason he sold over 8 million albums. Her empathy within her songs, the beauty in her heart was such a gift. Her gift will live on. Thank you for the music Joy.”

Meanwhile, the Slim Dusty Centre wrote in their Facebook post: “Joy will forever be cherished as a trailblazer in Australian music. Through her artistry, she brought communities together and gifted us with countless extraordinary moments in time that will be etched in our memories.”

Ashleigh Dallas wrote on Facebook: “A loss that is felt deeply also within many of us in country music. A legacy to live on in song, to be respected, honoured & remembered – for the roads she travelled for others to than follow, the integrity of lyric and stories she crafted and shared – all that simply became a benchmark that many of us try to live up to…”

Adam Harvey wrote in his Facebook tribute: “She was such a respected icon within our industry, a great mentor to so many of us, and a wonderful woman.”

“Extraordinary songwriter, performer, partner. Joy leaves an incredible musical legacy which will live on forever,” the Country Music Association of Australia wrote.

This is a developing story. 

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