I first saw Joey Martin Feek perform with her husband, Rory, on the 2008 season of Nashville Duet. They finished third on the show, standing out as much for their distinctive attire as for their soft harmonies.
Rory’s overalls were a throwback to an earlier, distinctly rural era, as was their musical style. As for Joey, who died recently at age 40 of cancer, she was something of a puzzler to me. Part Native American, she was blessed with striking looks that many a female artist would feel obliged or pressured to accentuate with designer cleavage and layers of makeup.
As the episodes unreeled, I assumed Joey would get with the program. Doll it up, play the game, for heaven’s sake don’t wear those long-sleeved, pearl button cowboy shirts (even though I always liked them on my late grandfather), but this wasn’t what she was about. She gracefully deflected remarks producers made on the show about the need for a makeover.
She defied my expectations and perhaps those in the viewing audience. Joey, aided by her songwriter husband, kept the honesty flowing with their music releases and performances.
They eventually put together a few shows on the RFD channel that wove together Joey’s love of cooking, their music, and a little homespun humor.
They recorded hymns, expressing both faith and a spirituality tellingly absent from some shows where the number of children seems to be the selling point.
After the birth of their last child in 2014-Indiana, named for Joey’s home state-Joey learned she had cervical cancer. Rounds of treatment failed to slow the cancer’s spread, and so she decided against last-ditch measures.
During her last months, Rory and Joey shared their journey via photos and messages, which took another kind of courage, the willingness to not hide the toll the disease and its treatment had taken. In extremis, she would be defined by her love of family, her faith, and grace in action.
Joey + Rory had a career together, but more importantly, they experienced a life well-lived and well-loved. Joey leaves behind family, friends, and fans, and those of us who absorbed a vital message–that what matters in any musical genre and more importantly, in life, is being true to oneself.
This strength of conviction, expressed by a quiet rebel, is a legacy well worth remembering.
Photo: Courtesy Rory Feek