Joy McKean

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Joy McKean OAM, born January 14, 1930, is an Australian country music singer-songwriter and wife of the late Slim Dusty. Known as the "grand lady" of Australian country music, McKean is recognised as one of Australia's leading songwriters and bush balladeers and wrote several of Dusty's most popular songs.[1] In 1983, McKean was inducted into the Australian Roll of Renown.[2]


Early Life and career[edit]

Joy McKean was born in Singleton in the Hunter Region, New South Wales on 14 January 1930.[3] 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.[4]

McKean first performed on the radio for the first time around the age of 10 on Sydney's 2GB radio station. Later McKean and her sister, Heather McKean (born February 20, 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.[1][5] 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, Joy McKean first met Slim Dusty (real name David Kirkpatrick) whom she married in 1951 (becoming Mrs Kirkpatrick, but retaining Joy McKean as her stage name). 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.[4]

Marriage and later career[edit]

McKean developed a flair for melody and musical storytelling with vivid evocative imagery. McKean was introduced to Slim Dusty by radio DJ Tim McNamara in Sydney. McKean married Dusty in 1951.[6] The couple became a highly successful musical pairing. In 1964, the couple commenced their first Australian tour to limited success, 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. McKean was Dusty's wife and manager for over 50 years. Together the couple had two children: Anne Kirkpatrick and David Kirkpatrick who are also accomplished singer-songwriters.[7] 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.

McKean won the first ever Golden Guitar award in 1973, for writing "Lights on the Hill", performed by Slim Dusty.[8] 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".[9]

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.[4] 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.[10]

McKean received her 6th Golden Guitar award in 2007 with Peppimenarti Cradle winning the Award for Bush Ballad of the Year.[11] 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.[12]

McKean is one of the founders of the Tamworth Country Music Festival and the Country Music Association of Australia, and is also a biographer ("Slim Dusty: Another Day, Another Town").[7] Mckean is Chair of the Slim Dusty Foundation Ltd, the organisation established to build and operate the Slim Dusty Centre in Slim’s home town of Kempsey, NSW. The centre opened in October 2015.[13]

External links[edit]


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  2. ^ "Roll of Renown". TCMF. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
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