Sad, sad news … Bobbie Nelson passes today
by: Joseph Hudak

Bobbie Nelson, an original member of her younger brother Willie Nelson’s Family Band, has died. She was 91.

Nelson, whose traditional yet graceful piano playing was a key component of Nelson’s live show, died Thursday morning surrounded by family, according to a statement from the Nelson family. “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,” it read. “Please keep her family in your thoughts and give them the privacy they need at this time.

Born January 1, 1931, in Abbott, Texas, Bobbie Lee Nelson was three years Willie’s senior, but that didn’t stop him from referring to her as his “Little Sister Bobbie” onstage. When she was just in her teens, Bobbie married the aspiring musician Bud Fletcher, who formed a band with his young wife and her brother. Following Fletcher’s death in a car accident, Bobbie abandoned music for a secretarial job, but the keys that she learned to play as a child were always within reach: Her office job was with the Hammond Organ Company.

Eventually, she returned to performing and in 1972 reunited with her brother, who had just signed a record deal with Atlantic Records. Bobbie appeared on many of Willie’s studio albums, from 1973’s Shotgun Willie and the 1975 masterpiece Red Headed Stranger to 2021’s The Willie Nelson Family, but it was her role onstage behind the piano where she left an indelible mark. An inconspicuous visible presence at Willie’s concerts — in later years, just the top of her hat would peek out from behind her grand piano — her playing was impossible to miss. She added graceful accents to Willie’s “Crazy” and helped set the rhythm for “On the Road Again,” while her solo turn on “Down Yonder” became a cornerstone of the Family Band’s concerts.

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