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Ronnie Milsap’s Wife of More Than 50 Years, Joyce Milsap, Has Died

Ronnie Milsap Wife
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Joyce Reeves Milsap — Ronnie Milsap‘s wife of more than five decades — has died. A representative from the singer’s record label, Black River Entertainment, confirms the that the 81-year-old died on Monday (Sept. 6).

Details of Joyce’s death have not been released. She’d previously battled leukemia, per USA Today in April 2014. In fact, it was due to leukemia that she was not able to attend an announcement that her husband, a legendary genre-shifting hitmaker, would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame that month.

By 2015 Joyce was able to attend events, like an opening reception for a Ronnie Milsap exhibit at the museum.

The Oak Ridge Boys are among close friends of the couple that spoke to Joyce’s influence on Ronnie, though his own words show her true impact.

“There are no words, and not enough songs in the world to explain how much I love my Sapphire,” Milsap says, referring to his nickname for Joyce.

She was the music and the feeling inside all of those songs, so if you loved my music, you understand some of how much I loved my beautiful, beautiful wife. It’s all in the songs, but she was even more. She was the love of my life, the mother of my son, the world’s happiest grandmother — and someone who woke up every day curious and ready for whatever adventure she could get into.

Ronnie and Joyce met at a dinner party thrown by her cousin in the early 1960s. At the time, he was a decade away from becoming a major country music star — in fact, he was on the verge of accepting a law school scholarship.

After that dinner, Reeves challenged Milsap (who is blind) to a foot race, which he accepted. When he ran into an open car door and fell, she came back to him, laughing. The young singer loved it and soon fell in love with her. They married in 1965 and were described as inseparable in the decades that followed.

“When people tell me they love my music, I always smile, because that music is pure Joyce. We went through lean times laughing, good times beyond our imagination, tough times where we held on to each other for dear life,” Ronnie says. “Blessedly/Thankfully, she’s in heaven with our Todd – and I know somehow from heaven, she’s still here with me every day, because that’s just how she was.”

Sam Moore, who became good friends with the Milsaps when the would-be country singer was playing clubs across the country, reflected on their relationship in a touching post on his Facebook page.

It is with great sorrow that I post this photo of Ronnie Milsap my friend for more than 50 years and his beloved wife…

Posted by Sam Moore on Monday, September 6, 2021

Joyce was there at every stage of Milsap’s career, often lugging gear to his shows. She was the one that inspired the move to Nashville in late 1972, and for two decades after she’d often vet songs that were pitched to him. Lifetime, Milsap notched 35 No. 1 songs on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and 49 Top 10 hits. The Grammy winner was also the 1977 CMA Entertainer of the Year.

“I always thought of them as a duo,” former Sony Nashville Chairman Joe Galante says. “Even though it was always the dynamic Ronnie Milsap, Joyce was everywhere and a true part of everything! Ronnie knew no bounds (as an artist and entertainer), and Joyce was there making those connections, filling in any gaps. She was a supporter, a guiding light and a defender when something wasn’t getting done … and because he couldn’t see faces, she’d be that person for him, too.”

Their union was not without tragedy, however. In 2019, the couple’s son Todd was found dead in Antioch, Tenn., at the age of 49.

Update: Per her obituary, the funeral service for Joyce Milsap will be private due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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