The country music community is in mourning following news Friday (March 4) that singer-songwriter Joey Martin Feek, who has had a very public battle with cervical cancer, has died, according to a post on Joey + Rory's Facebook page. She was 40.
A native of Indiana, the singer made the move to Nashville in the late 1990s, where she met songwriter Rory Feek -- who would become her husband (in June 2002) and then duet partner. She released a solo album, Strong Enough to Cry, on the Giantslayer label in 2005. However, as time progressed, the two began to work together more and more -- eventually performing on the CMT show Can You Duet? in 2008. A third-place finish on the program earned them a recording contract with Sugar Hill Records.
Their first album as a duo, The Life of a Song, was released in October 2008 and peaked at No. 10 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart. The first single from the project, the infectious “Cheater, Cheater,” garnered attention at radio as well, peaking at No. 30 on the Hot Country Songs chart. The video featured a guest cameo from Naomi Judd, one of the celebrity judges on the CMT series.
The success of their music led to winning top new vocal duo at the 2010 Academy of Country Music Awards. Their sophomore album, simply titled Album Number Two, also hit the top 10 on the albums chart upon its release later that year, though they never hit the top 40 on the airplay lists again. In fact, eight of their albums made the chart, with the most recent being Hymns, which debuted at No. 1 on Top Country Albums and Top Christian Albums. Hymns is 2016’s best-selling Christian/gospel album with 106,000 sold, according to Nielsen Music.
"I communicated to my wife, Joey, the good [chart] news about 'her record,'" Rory Feek told Billboard last week. "I call it her project, because the Hymns album is one that she has always wanted to make, and she's worked so hard to make it happen, in spite of the difficult circumstances she's facing. Her response, through tears, was, 'No, honey, this is God's record. He's gonna be the one that gets all the glory.' And she's right. Only God could make something like this happen."
Joey + Rory are nominated for vocal duo of the year at this year's ACM Awards, which will take place April 3.
The duo also made a name for themselves through their countless TV appearances, including their own weekly music program on the RFD-TV network and a successful string of commercials for Overstock.com. Both were filmed at their home, located about an hour south of Nashville. It was just a few miles from there that the couple established their own restaurant, Marcy Jo’s, which Feek said was a true labor of love for the couple. In fact, visitors to the eatery often found themselves waited on by the singer herself.
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“We opened this little place down by our farmhouse about three years ago,” she said in 2011. “It was at a time when I had nothing going on in music, and we weren’t even singing together. It was a place that his sister Marcy wanted to open up -- it was her dream. It’s been neat to feel a community around you that didn’t exist before. It was just an empty building. We opened it up wanting to know who our neighbors were. We’ve been down there for about eight years, and we only knew about four people. We opened the doors, and hundreds of people start showing up. Then, when the TV show hit, people from everywhere wanted to come and see our little slice of heaven.”
The singer had been waging a battle against cervical cancer since 2014. She underwent surgery for the disease that summer, but it returned in 2015. After undergoing another round of treatments, tests showed that the cancer had spread in October, prompting the couple to stop all treatments. On Nov. 9, it was announced that hospice care had been called in following a brief hospitalization while visiting family in Indiana the week before.
Reflecting on their sometimes unique musical style, Feek said in 2012, “We don’t ever take ourselves too seriously. We’re human, and just like anybody, we’re going to make mistakes. But, at the end of the day, we’re just trying to be honest with who we are and ourselves -- to keep our marriage intact, and to go down this path together and enjoy the ride while we have the opportunity to do so.”
Music was definitely something that helped to ease her troubles. Her last project with her husband was the Gospel standards project Hymns. In a previous interview, Feek said that she was grateful for the stories fans would tell the couple about how their music affected them -- even if the songs weren’t radio hits. “Usually those songs turn out to be a ballad or deeper, and for whatever reason, they’re not exposed to them through the radio. But people pick up on them because it touches them so deeply. It affects them. To me, music has always been a healing tool. If you have a bad day, you just turn the radio on, have a good cry to a great song. It’s going to be ok. It’s all going to be alright.”
The singer is survived by her husband, daughter Indiana, and two stepchildren, Hopie and Heidi. Arrangements are pending.