Joy McKean, a celebrated country music songwriter and the long-time partner and manager of Slim Dusty, has died following a drawn-out battle with cancer. McKean, whose contributions to the Australian music canon include Slim Dusty’s ‘Lights on the Hill’ and ‘The Biggest Disappointment’, died peacefully on Thursday, 25th May with her family by her side.
McKean married Dusty – real name David Kirkpatrick – in 1951 and the couple stayed together until Dusty’s death in 2003 at the age of 76. They had two children, Anne Kirkpatrick and David Kirkpatrick, and at the time of her death, McKean had four grandchildren and six great grandchildren. The Kirkpatrick family have asked for privacy as they process this loss.
Joy McKean – ‘Lights on the Hill’
McKean was born in Singleton, a regional town in New South Wales’ Hunter Region, and developed a fondness for country luminaries Jimmie Rogers and the Carter Family at a young age. McKean and her sister, Heather, began performing as a duo in the late 1940s, which led to McKean’s introduction to Dusty, who wasn’t yet a household name.
Following Dusty’s breakthrough hit, 1957’s ‘A Pub With No Beer’, McKean was central to steering one of the most illustrious careers in Australian music history. Dusty was essentially the face of Australian country music from the 1950s up until his death, and McKean was always working hard behind the scenes. In addition to composing a number of Dusty’s best known songs, she was Dusty’s manager, overseeing the release of more than 100 albums, which led to 45 Golden Guitars from the Country Music Awards of Australia.
McKean was also heavily decorated by the end of her life. Several of her compositions were named APRA Song of the Year, including ‘Lights on the Hill’ and ‘The Biggest Disappointment’ (both recorded by Dusty), and ‘Peppimenarti Cradle’ (recorded by daughter Anne Kirkpatrick in 2007).
McKean received the Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music in 2021. 30 years earlier, in 1991, McKean appeared on The Queen’s Birthday Honours List, receiving the Medal of the Order of Australia for “service to the entertainment industry.”
McKean and Dusty’s personal and professional partnership was the subject of the 2020 documentary, Slim and I, directed by Kriv Stenders (Red Dog). In a four-star review for the Sydney Morning Herald, critic Paul Byrnes underlined McKean’s centrality to the entire Slim Dusty operation.
“McKean wrote many of her husband’s best songs – in particular, ‘Lights on the Hill‘ and ‘The Biggest Disappointment‘,” Byrnes wrote. “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.“
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