Bobbie Nelson, Willie's pianist and sister, passes away
Nelson passed away "peacefully and surrounded by family," according to a publicist. No cause of death was given.
Her elegance, grace, beauty and talent made this world a better place. 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," said Willie on his Facebook page.
Bobbie Nelson was the first member of Willie's band, as his pianist and singer. Willie referred to Bobbie as "my little sister," even though she was three years older. She often wore a black hat while performing.
Bobbie and Willie were raised on music by their grandparents, who raised the siblings in the small town of Abbot, Texas. Her grandmother started instructing her to play piano on a pump organ at the age of five. Her grandfather took her to singing gospel conventions in Hillsboro, Texas. Her grandfather bought her a piano for $35 when she was six
"My grandfather had said to me when I was learning to play the piano, 'You know, if you really work at this, you could earn your living playing music one day'," Bobbie said. "And I never forgot that."
At 16, Bobbie married Bud Fletcher, who had his own band, The Texans. She played piano, while Willie sang and played guitar. Their guitar-playing father, Ira Nelson also was in the band. The band fell apart in 1955 after she divorced Fletcher.
But Bud Fletcher died in a car accident, leaving Bobbie with three young sons to raise on her own. She gave up playing music to attend a business college in Fort Worth and learn secretarial skills for an office job. Yet music helped her land her first job out of school when the Hammond Organ Co. hired Nelson for both her office skills to work in the company's music library and to demonstrate the company's organs. As her children grew, she also began working as a piano entertainer in restaurants, lounges and supper clubs, eventually earning her living as a pianist in Austin and Nashville.
"It was a fabulous thing because I was back really playing music again, not just demonstrating and selling organs," she said. "I was very happy to be able to sit down and just play from my heart and soul."
Her youngest song, Freddy, would also join her on drums. Then, in 1972, Willie, freshly-signed to Atlantic Records, invited Bobbie to join him in New York City for a recording session and then asked her to join his band. "I was just so happy to be playing music with Willie again," she said.
Nelson released her debut album, "Audiobiography," in 2007. The Justice Records release features a collection of 12 of her favorite songs - two featuring Willie singing and playing guitar with her.
Bobbie and Willie Nelson released five religiously-themed albums together, starting with "I'd Rather Have Jesus" in 1986.
In recent years, she once again was featured in the album "The Willie Nelson Family" (2021, Legacy Recordings), a collection of country gospel-flavored songs performed by Willie's Family Band. The siblings also collaborated on two books: the memoir "Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of The Family Band" (2020 Random House) and the only children's book they penned, "Sister, Brother, Family: An American Childhood in Music" (2021, Doubleday).
- 05/16/23: Willie's 90th goes to the silver screen
- 05/03/23: Nelson, Crow, Wray to join Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
- 05/02/23: Nelson celebrates 90th in style
- 04/28/23: Strings gets "California Sober" with Willie
- 04/26/23: Church, Hunt, King, Lovett play Willie benefit
- 04/26/23: Nelson extends Outlaw Music Festival Tour
- 03/23/23: Nelson receives LBJ Foundation honor
- 03/14/23: Willie's Outlaw Music Fest returns
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