Joey Martin Feek, lead vocalist of the husband-and-wife country duo Joey + Rory, has passed away from cervical cancer at 40, her husband, Rory Feek, confirmed on his blog. The country star is survived by Rory and their daughter, Indiana.
Joey + Rory got their big break on the CMT reality competition show Can You Duet. They placed third, but won big in the end, taking home the Academy of Country Music's Top New Vocal Duo award in 2010. Their debut single, "Cheater Cheater," reached 30th on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
Some of their major hits, like "That's Important to Me," reflected country values like enjoying the outdoors, making home-cooked meals, and bonding with family. She grew up riding horses, and made sure every Joey + Rory album featured at least one Western song.
The couple took pride in their small-town roots. They called an 1870s farmhouse in Tennessee home, and filmed The Joey+Rory Show on the rural channel RFD-TV and a weekly radio show from their small town of Pottsville. In that town, Joey and her sister-in-law Marcy started Marcy Jo's Mealhouse and Bakery, a restaurant and bakery converted from an old mercantile store. The restaurant was featured in an Overstock.com commercial, which starred the duo, and until she got sick, Joey kept working there when she had time off.
Her voice was often compared to country idols Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. Her version of "Amazing Grace" is especially haunting:
Joey + Rory were at the height of their career when Joey died. Their latest album, Hymns That Are Important to Us, hit the top of the country album charts in February, despite next to no promotion. And they were nominated for their first Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance, for their song, "If I Needed You."
The couple, married since 2002, welcomed their little Indiana, who has Down Syndrome, in February of 2014. In June of that year, Rory announced on his blog that Joey had been diagnosed with cervical cancer.
She had a hysterectomy to stop the spread of the cancer, but a year later, the cancer returned, this time in her sigmoid colon. Despite aggressive chemotherapy and radiation, tumors started to grow in her abdomen, and she decided to stop treatment.
Hundreds of people from Joey's hometown, Alexandria, Indiana, gathered for a candlelit prayer vigil in early November, and her family and friends shaved their heads in solidarity. But on November 10, Rory posted a tragic update: Joey had been moved home for hospice care so she could focus on being comfortable. Despite the odds, Joey hung on past Christmas, past Valentine's Day and the Grammy Awards, and past Indiana's second birthday.
Throughout it all, Rory has given fans updates on his blog. And on February 29, he shared the sad news that Joey had said her final goodbyes to her family. "I set our little Indy on Joey's lap and we all cried with my wife as she told her how much her mama loved her and, "…you be a big girl for your papa… and that mama will be watching over you,'" Rory wrote. " And then she pulled Indiana up and she kissed her. One last kiss."
"The courage that they as a family have displayed. It's inspirational," said fellow country star Blake Shelton, whose song "Some Beach" was written by Rory. "It's sad, but it's special at the same time. To see what they're going though as a family and what's happening with Joey, what can you say?"
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