Bobbie Nelson, the piano-playing older sister of Willie Nelson and his longtime bandmate, died Thursday (March 10) morning. She was 91.
"Her elegance, grace, beauty and talent made this world a better place," read a statement from the Nelson family. "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 statement added that Bobbie died "peacefully and surrounded by family."
Bobbie Lee Nelson was born on Jan. 1, 1931. She and Willie were raised by their paternal grandparents in Abbott, Texas. The siblings first played music together in public at a local methodist church. As teenagers, they performed in a band with their father, Ira Nelson, and Bobbie's first husband, Bud Fletcher.
Bobbie became Willie's go-to pianist and keyboardist, on stage and in the studio, for almost 50 years, starting with an early 1970s recording session in New York. Bobbie's run in her brother's Family Band began with the classic Atlantic Records releases The Troublemaker, Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages.
Bobbie shared top billing with her brother Willie on the albums I'd Rather Have Jesus (1986), Gospel: Old Time Religion (1992), How Great Thou Art (1996), Hill Country Christmas (1997) and Willie's Stash, Vol. 1: December Day (2014). Her lone solo album, 2008's Audiobiography, was mixed by one of her sons, Freddy Fletcher.
"Sister Bobbie was the heart and soul of Willie Nelson & Family, and she and Willie are one of the greatest brother-sister teams in music history," read SiriusXM's announcement of her passing. "But she was equally adored for her sweet personality, quiet strength and gentle nature. She will be missed by both her immediate and extended family of musicians, friends, and fans."
Bobbie joined the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2017. She co-wrote 2020's Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band (Random House) with Willie and music biographer David Ritz. The siblings' children's book about their shared journey, Sister, Brother, Family: An American Childhood in Music, followed in 2021.
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