Willie Nelson’s Big Sister

source:  The Huntsville Times
by Chris Welch

Through the years – decades, to be precise – many things have been written about the legendary singer Willie Nelson. We’ve heard about his love of nature (specifically, an appreciation of marijuana leaves), his fights with the IRS, his countless hits and awards and dedication to farmers through Farm Aid.

But there’s one story that hasn’t been told often enough – the special relationship he has with his older sister, Bobbie Nelson.

Many music lovers know of Bobbie and her wonderful piano playing talents of 35 years and counting as a member of the Willie Nelson and Family Band, which plays tonight at the Von Braun Center Arena. The spotlight is usually reserved for her little brother – she’s 76 and Willie is 74 – but on occasion the modest musician steps forward with her piano and shows how indeed talent runs in the family. She even released her first CD, “Audiobiography,” in September.

“I even get excited telling you about it,” Bobbie Nelson said in a phone interview from Austin, Texas. “It’s the most wonderful thing in my life, to go on stage with Willie. I love to sit back and play by myself, but whenever I sit with Willie and play, it goes to another level.

“I just don’t know how to explain it. I’m just so blessed Willie and I can play together.”

Bobbie and Willie’s story is one of true sibling love and loyalty, going back to when they were kids growing up in Abbott, Texas, raised by music-loving grandparents who studied gospel music by lamplight (there was no electricity). Their home had a pump organ, and when Bobbie was 5 her grandfather bought a piano. Willie eventually got a guitar and their grandmother would sing.

It became evident early her brother had a special gift to write songs.

“When Willie started school, he was very good at writing poetry,” Nelson said. “His first-grade teacher mentioned that to our grandmother. He was a unique little boy.”

They started out in churches and by their teens were playing honkytonks together. Eventually, Willie went off on a journey that led him to stardom. Bobbie had three kids, moved to Fort Worth and worked for the Hammond Organ Company, all the while performing at lounges and restaurants.

By the time she was 40 in 1972, Nelson had gone through some tough times, including losing her husband, divorcing another and experiencing health problems. Little brother came to the rescue, inviting her to New York City to play on a gospel record with him. For Bobbie, it was a godsend.

“I was so happy when Willie asked me to play on his album,” Nelson said. “I was only supposed to do one album, but he decided he wanted me to play on ‘Shotgun Willie.’ He said, ‘Gee, I’ve missed playing with you’ and I said, ‘I’ve missed playing with you, too.’

“We’re so close and I thank God for this. There was something very special with our being born together in that situation, and living with our grandmother, that made us very tight with each other. I’m just so happy we’re together.”

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