Bobbie Nelson, Willie Nelson’s sister and a longtime pianist in his band, has died. “Her elegance, grace, beauty and talent made this world a better place,” a statement from the Nelson family reads. “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.” She was 91.
Born in Abbott, Texas, in 1931, Bobbie Nelson learned to play piano when she was five years old. After performing at a gospel convention as a child, her grandfather brought her a piano, and she began playing in functions at her high school and in church with her younger brother. At age sixteen, Bobbie married Bud Fletcher, who formed the band Bud Fletcher and the Texans with Bobbie on piano and Willie on vocals and guitar. Following Fletcher’s death in a car accident, Bobbie worked for the Hammond Organ Company before she eventually returned to music, performing in local venues in Nashville. In 1973, her brother Willie, who had just signed a record deal with Atlantic Records, invited her to join his band. She remained a member of the original lineup for decades, appearing on albums such as The Troublemaker, Shotgun Willie, Stardust, and To Lefty From Willie.
In 2008, Bobbie released her debut solo album, Audiobiography. In the past two years, she and Willie published two books that they wrote together, a memoir called Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of The Family Band in 2020 and the children’s book Sister, Brother, Family: An American Childhood in Music in 2021.
“If I was the sky, Sister Bobbie was the Earth. She grounded me,” Willie wrote in Me and Sister Bobbie. “There is no longer or stronger or steadier relationship in my life.”