Joy McKean: ‘trailblazing’ Australian songwriter and wife of Slim Dusty dies aged 93

Australian singer-songwriter Joy McKean, who wrote some of her husband Slim Dusty’s most popular songs, has died at 93 from cancer.

EMI said McKean had passed away peacefully on Thursday night, surrounded by family. “She will be remembered as a pioneer in Australian music,” the statement read.

As well as being married to Dusty, McKean was also his manager and ran the business of his lucrative career: a five-decade partnership that was responsible for more than 100 albums and which won 45 Golden Guitars.

McKean won the first ever Golden Guitar award in 1973 for Lights on the Hill – a song which McKean wrote and Dusty sang. Among other songs she wrote for him were Walk A Country Mile, The Biggest Disappointment and Indian Pacific.

McKean was born in Singleton in the Hunter region of NSW. Encouraged by her parents, she and her sister, Heather, both learned to play various instruments and sing from a young age. They became known for their yodelling, and had a half-hour live radio show on 2KW as the McKean Sisters; eventually, they would record their own hits including Yodel Down the Valley, in the early 1950s.

McKean met Slim Dusty in 1951, six years before he became the first Australian to have an international No 1 with A Pub With No Beer. The bush balladeer would go on to sell more than 7m records across his career; he was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1970, inducted into the Aria Hall of Fame in 1988, and given the Order of Australia in 1998.

But McKean was integral to his success, in a partnership that was documented in Kriv Stenders 2020 film, Slim and I.

McKean’s memoir, Riding This Road, was published in 2014; she also co-wrote two of her husband’s autobiographies: Slim, Another Day Another Town (1996) and I’ve Been There and Back Again (2011). She was given the Order of Australia in 1991 for service to the entertainment industry.

“They say behind every great man is a great woman, but I say in Slim’s case, she was right beside him,” Keith Urban has said of McKean.

McKean was also founder of the Tamworth Country music festival and the Country Music Association of Australia; she was recognised for a lifetime of achievement at the Australian Women in Music Awards in 2019.

Paul Kelly has described her as “one of our greatest songwriters”, with Lee Kernaghan calling her “a trailblazer” and “an inspiration”.

McKean is survived by her children, Anne and David Kirkpatrick.

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