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Joy McKean, the first Golden Guitar winner and wife and manager of ...

Joy McKean, the first winner of the Golden Guitar who was also the wife and manager of Slim Dusty, has died at the age of 93.

Joy McKean, the first winner of the Golden Guitar who was also the wife and manager of Slim Dusty, has died at the age of 93.

Key points:
  • Joy McKean is being remembered for her talent, empathy and integrity
  • She told the ABC that Slim Dusty insisted on giving her due credit during the "chauvinistic" 1950s
  • She is survived by her two children, four grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren

EMI Music announced her death after a long illness with cancer.

She died peacefully, surrounded by her family. 

McKean was a multi-award-winning songwriter and musician who wrote many of her husband Slim Dusty's most famous songs.

She won the first Golden Guitar awarded at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 1973 for the song Lights on the Hill.

Joy McKean accepts a Golden Guitar in Tamworth in the 1970s.(Supplied: The Slim Dusty Foundation)

The song was inspired by McKean's experience towing a heavy caravan up the then-notorious Devil's Pinch, near Guyra, on the New South Wales Northern Tablelands.

The trip on the New England Highway on a rainy night was made more difficult because the vehicle's headlight dimmer switch was on the floor near the brake and she could only use one foot because she was wearing a leg caliper.

McKean said it was driving a van like this one on a rainy night up steep that inspired her 1973 Golden Guitar-winning song Lights on the Hill. (Supplied: The Slim Dusty Foundation)

"I'd have my high beam on to see where the next turn was, a truck would come over and I'd cop it fair in the eyes," McKean said.

"I knew if I took my foot off [the accelerator] for too long the vehicle would either stall or start slipping back because of the weight of the van."

Joy McKean and Slim Dusty achieved enormous success together.(Supplied: The Slim Dusty Centre)

The song came to her in the rhythm of the windscreen wipers and by the time she reached Warwick in southern Queensland it was complete.

McKean said when she first starting writing music in the 1950s the industry was "chauvinistic".

"Nobody would have believed I was writing [the songs]," she said.

"I said to Slim, 'We'll fix that — put your name on them.

"He said, 'No, I can't do that.'

"I said, 'Put both names on them' — and so that's what we did.

"Of course then there was a fuss that 'Slim didn't give her a lot of credit.'

"Oh, he gave me a lot of credit — don't you worry."

McKean and Dusty's Golden Guitar collection.(ABC News: Tom Lowrey)
'The Queen of Country Music'

Alongside Slim Dusty she produced more than 100 albums, sold more than eight million albums and earned 45 Golden Guitars.

"She will be remembered as a pioneer in Australian music," the company statement said.


The Country Music Association of Australia said the singer-songwriter was the "Queen of Australian Country Music".

"Extraordinary songwriter, performer, partner," the organisation said in a statement.

"Joy leaves and incredible musical legacy which will live on forever."

McKean with a bronze statue of Slim Dusty and herself that was unveiled at the 42nd Tamworth Country Music Festival on January 24, 2014.(AAP: Lukas Coch)

Tamworth Country Music Festival co-founder, author and broadcaster Max Ellis first met McKean in the 1960s and said she had a deep understanding of the human condition.

"Working with Joy has been such a pleasure," he said.

"She was a person with enormous integrity, she was very practical.

"She was a person who really relates to other people so well, and many of her famous songs are about other people, of course — songs like The Biggest Disappointment and Kelly's offsider.

"She was very empathetic of others.

"As a person she was a remarkable individual who was loved and respected by everyone who had anything to do with her and she will be sadly missed by the country music fraternity."


Golden Guitar and ARIA award-winner Fanny Lumsden took to social media to pay tribute to the icon.

Lumsden said she would "draw strength" from McKean as she continued to play her music in halls throughout regional Australia.

"Thank you Joy," she wrote.

McKean is survived by her children, Anne Kirkpatrick and David Kirkpatrick, four grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

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