Australian Country Music Pioneer Joy McKean OAM Has Died, Age 93

26 May 2023 | 12:27 pm | Mallory Arbour

Vale Joy McKean - 14th Jan 1930 – 25th May 2023

Joy McKean

Joy McKean (Image: Supplied/John Elliott)

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Joy McKean OAM passed away peacefully last night (May 25) with family by her side after a long battle with cancer. She will be remembered as a pioneer in Australian music.

McKean was a multi-award-winning songwriter and musician who wrote many of her husband Slim Dusty’s most famous songs and won the first Golden Guitar awarded at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 1973 for Lights on the Hill

Her musical partnership with Dusty produced over 100 albums, sold over 8 million albums and earned 45 Golden Guitars. McKean was Slim’s manager, ran the business and most importantly loved and raised the family.

McKean wrote three books, including Slim, Another Day Another Town (1996), I’ve Been There and Back Again (2011) and Riding This Road (2014), and starred in the documentary film, Slim and I, which won ‘Best Australian Film’ at the 2020 Gold Coast Film Festival Awards.    

The film soundtrack included songs from the likes of Anne Kirkpatrick, Troy Cassar-Daley, Dobe Newton, Paul Kelly, Kasey Chambers, Bill Chambers, Slim Dusty and more, as well as a new McKean composition I Don't Believe You, co-written with grandson James Arneman, and his wife Flora Smith, and described by Rolling Stone as "McKean at her most honest and poignant, with her iconic songwriting shining through in what was her first composition in over a decade.”

McKean was one of the founders of the Tamworth Country Music Festival and the Country Music Association of Australia. In 1983, she was inducted into the Australian Roll of Renown.

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Over the years, many Australian country artists have praised McKean’s contribution to the genre. Lee Kernaghan called her a “trailblazer and inspiration” while Troy Cassar-Daley referred to her as a “national treasure.” 

Keith Urban once said, “They say behind every great man is a great woman, but I say in Slim’s case, she was right beside him.” Kasey Chambers said, “Joy McKean has been the backbone of so much of the Australian country music industry.”

McKean is survived by her children Anne Kirkpatrick and David Kirkpatrick, 4 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren. The family requests privacy during this difficult time.

Vale Joy McKean - 14th Jan 1930 – 25th May 2023