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Joy McKean

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Joy McKean
Background information
Birth nameMildred Geraldine Joy McKean
Born(1930-01-14)14 January 1930
Singleton, New South Wales, Australia
Died25 May 2023(2023-05-25) (aged 93)
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, musician, talent manager
Years active1940–2023
Formerly ofThe McKean Sisters (1948–1956)
Spouse(s)Slim Dusty

Mildred Geraldine Joy Kirkpatrick[1] OAM (née McKean; 14 January 1930 – 25 May 2023), known professionally as Joy McKean, was an Australian country music singer-songwriter and wife and manager of Slim Dusty. Her daughter is country singer and musician Anne Kirkpatrick.

McKean was known as the Queen of Australian country music,[2] and considered a pioneer in the industry, recognized as one of Australia's leading songwriters and bush balladeers and wrote several of Dusty's most popular songs.[3] In 1973, she was awarded the first ever Golden Guitar, for writing "Lights on the Hill". Several documentary films tell of the couple's success and adventures as performers, including The Slim Dusty Movie and Slim and I.

The McKean-Dusty partnership produced over 100 albums, and sold eight million records in Australia alone.

McKean was awarded the OAM in 1991, with the citation "services to the entertainment industry".[1]

In 2014, a bronze statue of McKean and Slim Dusty was unveiled in Tamworth, New South Wales[2]

McKean won several APRA Awards and was inducted into the Australian Roll of Renown in 1983.[4] She was the first winner of the Golden Guitars, an award she would win 45 times in her career.


Early life and career[edit]

Joy McKean was born in Singleton in the Hunter Region, New South Wales, on 14 January 1930.[5] As an infant, McKean lived on the dairy farm belonging to her mother's family. Her father was a country school teacher and the family moved around to several regional centres during her youth. Her mother and their father, who was a steel guitar player, encouraged an interest in different types of music, including country performers Jimmie Rogers and the Carter Family. Joy learned the accordion, piano and steel guitar, while younger sister Heather McKean learned the ukulele and both took up yodeling. McKean also contracted polio as a child and was treated in Sydney by the famous Sister Kenny.[6]

McKean first performed on the radio around the age of 10 on Sydney's 2GB radio station. Later McKean and her sister, Heather McKean (born 20 February 1932), sang for the Sydney University Revue, while a student at the university. By the age of 18, in the 1940s, she was performing live with her sister Heather on their own half-hour Saturday radio show on 2KY as the McKean Sisters, noted for their yodelling harmonies.[3][7] The Melody Trail starring the two sisters ran from 1949 until 1956. The McKeans began recording, and from 1951 with Rodeo Label they cut such trademark hits as "Gymkhana Yodel" and "Yodel Down The Valley". During this time, McKean met Slim Dusty, introduced by radio DJ Tim McNamara in Sydney.[8][6]

Marriage and musical partnership with Slim Dusty[edit]

Joy McKean married Slim Dusty (real name David Kirkpatrick) in 1951 (becoming Mrs Kirkpatrick, but retaining Joy McKean as her stage name). Sister Heather met Reg Lindsay, whom she married in 1954 and the sisters began solo careers and partnerships with two of Australia's leading male country music singers.[6] McKean was Dusty's wife and manager for over 50 years, creating a hugely successful body of work.[9] Dusty and McKean had two children: Anne Kirkpatrick and David Kirkpatrick who are also accomplished singer-songwriters.[10] The family began annual round Australia tours in 1964 – encompassing a 30,000-mile, 10-month journey which was the subject of a feature film, The Slim Dusty Movie in 1984.

Dusty attained international success with his 1957 hit "A Pub With No Beer", and remained at the forefront of Australian country music from that time until his death in 2003. Together they produced more than 100 albums, sold eight million records in Australia alone, and earned 45 Golden Guitars.[9] McKean developed a flair for melody and musical storytelling with vivid evocative imagery. She was awarded the first ever Golden Guitar award in 1973, for writing "Lights on the Hill", performed by Dusty.[11] Other popular songs written by McKean for her husband include: "Walk A Country Mile", "Indian Pacific", "Kelly's Offsider", "The Angel of Goulburn Hill" and "The Biggest Disappointment".[12][9][1]

In 1993 the McKean Sisters reunited to record a CD, "The McKeans on Stage" and continued to perform together on stage various times with the Slim Dusty Show over the subsequent decade leading up to Slim's death in 2003 and Tamworth's tribute "Concert for Slim" in 2004.[6] This tribute concert brought together over 30 Australian music artists and featured an historic duet performance by McKean and Paul Kelly of "Sunlander" and a cover of McKean's Lights on the Hill performed by Keith Urban.[13]

Later career[edit]

McKean received her sixth Golden Guitar award in 2007 with "Peppimenarti Cradle" winning the Award for Bush Ballad of the Year.[14] McKean celebrated her 80th birthday in 2010 with the Happy Birthday Joy concert at Capitol Theatre in Tamworth during the Country Music Festival in January 2010.[15]

McKean was one of the founders of the Tamworth Country Music Festival and the Country Music Association of Australia, and was also a biographer (Slim Dusty: Another Day, Another Town).[10] She was chair of the Slim Dusty Foundation Ltd, the organisation established to build and operate the Slim Dusty Centre in his home town of Kempsey, New South Wales. The centre opened in October 2015.[16]

Documentary film[edit]

The 2020 Australian documentary film Slim and I, directed by Kriv Stenders was released when McKean was aged 90, and told the story of her life with Slim Dusty.[17] The film features covers of McKean songs by acclaimed contemporary artists including Missy Higgins, Paul Kelly, Troy Cassar-Daley and Keith Urban.[18]

Film critic Paul Byrnes wrote: "Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) gives us a loving portrait of one of the most important songwriters this country has produced – and it's not Slim Dusty. Aficionados already knew Joy McKean wrote many of her husband's best songs – in particular, Lights on the Hill and The Biggest Disappointment. Slim and I makes clear that she also kept the Slim Dusty Show on the road, managed the band, raised the kids and kept her husband from straying too far from the path of righteousness...".[9]

The film soundtrack included 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."[19]


Joy McKean died of cancer on 25 May 2023, at the age of 93.[20]

Honours and awards[edit]

APRA Awards[edit]

The APRA Awards are presented annually from 1982 by the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), "honouring composers and songwriters".[21]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2021[22] Joy McKean Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music awarded

Australian Roll of Renown[edit]

The Australian Roll of Renown honours Australian and New Zealander musicians who have shaped the music industry by making a significant and lasting contribution to Country Music. It was inaugurated in 1976 and the inductee is announced at the Country Music Awards of Australia in Tamworth in January.[23] Joy has been recognised twice; once as part of The McKean Sisters and individually in 2020.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
1983 The McKean Sisters Australian Roll of Renown inductee
2020 Joy McKean Australian Roll of Renown inductee

Australian Women in Music Awards[edit]

The Australian Women in Music Awards is an annual event that celebrates outstanding women in the Australian Music Industry who have made significant and lasting contributions in their chosen field. They commenced in 2018.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2019[24] Joy McKean Lifetime Achievement Award awarded

Country Music Awards of Australia[edit]

The Country Music Awards of Australia (CMAA) (also known as the Golden Guitar Awards) is an annual awards night held in January during the Tamworth Country Music Festival, celebrating recording excellence in the Australian country music industry. They have been held annually since 1973.[25]

Year Nominee / work Award Result(wins only)
1973 "Lights on the Hill" (written by Joy McKean) recorded by Slim Dusty APRA Song of the Year Won
1975 "Biggest Disappointment" (written by Joy McKean) recorded by Slim Dusty APRA Song of the Year Won
1978 "Indian Pacific" (written by Joy McKean) recorded by Slim Dusty APRA Song of the Year Won
1979 "Beat of the Government Stroke" (written by Joy McKean & Tom Oliver) recorded by Slim Dusty APRA Song of the Year Won
1998 "Lady Is a Truckie" (written by Joy McKean) recorded by Slim Dusty Bush Ballad of the Year Won
2007 "Peppimenarti Cradle" (written by Joy McKean) recorded by Anne Kirkpatrick Bush Ballad of the Year Won

Tamworth Songwriters Awards[edit]

The Tamworth Songwriters Association (TSA) is an annual songwriting contest for original country songs, awarded in January at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. They commenced in 1986.[26] Joy McKean has won three awards.[27]

Year Nominee / work Award Result (wins only)
1993 "Calloused Hands" by Joy McKean and Tony Brooks Traditional Bush Ball of the Year Won
1994 "Ringer from the Top End" by Joy McKean Traditional Bush Ball of the Year Won
2005 Joy McKean Tex Morton Award awarded


  1. ^ a b c "Mildred Geraldine Joy Kirkpatrick". Australian Honours Search Facility, Dept of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 1 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Joy McKean, the first, Golden Guitar winner and wife and manager of Slim Dusty, dies age 93". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 26 June 2023. The Country Music Association of Australia said the singer-songwriter was the "Queen of Australian Country Music".
  3. ^ a b "Joy McKean on country music and her marriage to Slim Dusty". Conversations with Richard Fidler. 22 February 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  4. ^ "Roll of Renown". TCMF. Archived from the original on 4 September 2018. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  5. ^ "Slim Dusty – Chronicler of the Bush". History of Country Music in Australia. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d "A Tribute to The McKean Sisters". History of Country Music in Australia. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  7. ^ "NT Country Hour". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 26 May 2023.
  8. ^ "Slim Dusty – Milestones". Archived from the original on 20 September 2011. Retrieved 8 October 2010.
  9. ^ a b c d Slim Dusty documentary is pure joy, in more ways than one; The Sydney Morning Herald; 10 September 2020
  10. ^ a b "Slim Dusty – News". Archived from the original on 30 April 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2010.
  11. ^ "NT Country Hour". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 26 May 2023.
  12. ^ "The Country Music Store". store.countrymusic.com.au. Archived from the original on 30 August 2002.
  13. ^ "Concert for Slim (Slim Dusty): DVDs-Chaos.com". chaos.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2012.
  14. ^ "2007 Country Music Awards Winners : Music". Web Wombat. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  15. ^ Honan, Kim (22 January 2010). "Joy McKean performs". ABC News. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  16. ^ "Slim Dusty Centre | Kempsey NSW". Slim Dusty Centre. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  17. ^ "Walking the red carpet for the world premiere of Slim & I". Nambucca Guardian. 4 September 2020. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  18. ^ Martin, Josh (12 June 2020). "Watch the first trailer for Joy McKean and Slim Dusty documentary, Slim and I". NME. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  19. ^ "New Joy McKean Song 'I Don't Believe You' Leads 'Slim & I' Soundtrack", Rolling Stone Australia, 25 August 2020
  20. ^ "Australian Country Music Legend Joy McKean Dies Aged 93". Noise11. 26 May 2023. Retrieved 26 May 2023.
  21. ^ "APRA History". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) | Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS). Archived from the original on 20 September 2010. Retrieved 17 January 2011.
  22. ^ "APRA Awards to honour country music legend Joy McKean, announce full lineup". The Music Network. 15 April 2021. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  23. ^ "Roll of Renown". Tamworth Country Music Festival. Retrieved 29 October 2020.[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ "Congratulations to our 2019 Recipients & Finalists". women in Music Awards. October 2019. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  25. ^ "Past Award Winners". Archived from the original on 19 January 2021. Retrieved 2 November 2020.
  26. ^ "Tamworth Songwriters Association". Tamworth Songwriters Association Online. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  27. ^ "Tamworth Songwriters Association Past Winners". Tamworth Songwriters Association Online. Retrieved 23 March 2022.

External links[edit]