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Bobbie Nelson, Pianist-Bandmate Of Younger Brother Willie, Dies At 91

Bobbie Nelson, sister of Willie Nelson and the longtime pianist in his band, died yesterday (10) at the age of 91.

Nelson died peacefully and surrounded by family. In a statement, his family wrote: “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. Please keep her family in your thoughts and give them the privacy they need at this time.”

Bobbie was a featured player in the Willie Nelson and Family band for decades and featured on many of his major albums, such as Red Headed Stranger and Stardust. She also became more prominent as a solo artist in later years, releasing her first, and only, album in her own name, Audiobiography, in 2007.

She and her brother had also collaborated on two books of late, Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of The Family Band in 2020 and Sister, Brother, Family: An American Childhood in Music, a children’s book, in 2021.

Bobbie Lee Nelson was born in Abbot, Texas, on January 1, 1931, Willie’s older sister by a little over two years. She was taught piano by her grandmother and, by the late 1940s, was playing in the Texans, formed by husband Bud Fletcher, whom she had married at 16. Willie joined the same line-up on guitar before it disbanded in the mid-1950s after the marriage ended.

After two further failed marriages and a move, via Austin, to Nashville, and in 1973, her brother asked her to the recording sessions on which she played piano for Shotgun Willie. The record was co-produced by Arif Mardin, Jerry Wexler, and David Briggs during Willie’s Atlantic Records years, and Bobbie joined the family band at the same time. She played on subsequent albums such as Phases and Stages and, after his move to Columbia, Red Headed Stranger, The Sound In Your Mind, The Troublemaker, and many more.

Bobbie and Willie made an occasional series of gospel albums together, starting with 1986’s I’d Rather Have Jesus; the most recent was 1997’s Hill Country Christmas. Bobbie was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2017.

In 2007, Willie Nelson told the Austin American-Statesman: “There’s just no way to explain how lucky I am to have a good musician in the family. Whenever I’ve needed a piano player, I’ve had Sister Bobbie right there…whenever our band plays, Sister Bobbie is the best musician on the stage.”

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