Bobbie Nelson, Willie's Nelson Sister and Bandmate, Dies at 91

The accomplished musician shared a strong bond with her younger brother, Willie. 

Bobbie and Willie Nelson
Photo: Getty Images / Gary Miller

Willie Nelson's older sister Bobbie Nelson died peacefully Thursday morning in her Austin home surrounded by family. She was 91. Bobbie was a celebrate pianist, singer, and author who performed alongside her younger brother, music icon Willie Nelson, for more than 50 years as his band pianist. Over the years, beginning as an original member of Willie Nelson and the Family Band, Bobbie's piano prowess became a huge part of Willie's signature sound. The two shared a famously strong bond.

"Her elegance, grace, beauty and talent made this world a better place," a statement on Willie's Facebook read. "She was the first member of Willie's band, as his pianist and singer. Our hearts are broken and she will be deeply missed. But we are so lucky to have had her in our lives. Please keep her family in your thoughts and give them the privacy they need at this time."

The native of Abott, Texas, was raised by her grandparents. She learned to play keyboards on a pump organ at the age of five. From that moment on, she hardly ever left her post on a piano bench.

As a teenager, Willie and Bobbie, alongside Bobbie's husband Bud Fletcher and the pair's father Ira Nelson, played honkey tonks all over the state. When Bobbie's husband died in a car accident, she left the business to attend business college and raise her three young sons. After a brief time away, she slowly got back into performing, first as an employee at Hammond Organ Co., where she demonstrated play on the company's organs, then as a full-time musician playing restaurants, lounges, and supper clubs.

In 1973, Willie signed with Atlantic Records, and Bobbie's fate was sealed. At the age of 42, she joined Willie as the first member of his band. Over the next several decades, she was involved of every step of Willie's whirlwind road to musical fame.

In 2007, Bobbie struck out on her own with the release of her debut album Audiobiography, a collection of 12 songs, two of which featured Willie singing and playing guitar alongside her. Recently, the pair co-authored two books together. Joint memoir Me and My Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band came out in 2020, and children's book Sister, Brother, Family: An American Childhood in Music came out the following year.

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"If I was the sky, Sister Bobbie was the Earth. She grounded me," Willie wrote in the memoir. "There is no longer or stronger or steadier relationship in my life."

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Nelson family!

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