Fans of country music legend Willie Nelson are undoubtedly familiar with his piano-playing older sister Bobbie Nelson, who was an original member of Nelson’s “Family Band” and spent roughly five decades supporting her younger brother’s musical career.
Sadly, Bobbie Nelson reportedly died Thursday morning at the age of 91, though no cause of death has been given, according to Rolling Stone.
Affectionately known as “Little Sister Bobbie,” despite being the older sibling, the pair grew up playing music together as children and, aside from a decade or two when she left the music scene to work for the Hammond Organ Company, the pair were otherwise inseparable when it came to the family business of making music.
Grew up playing music together
According to Fox News, Bobbie Lee Nelson died “peacefully and surrounded by family” on Thursday of an unspecified cause, per a statement from the 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. Please keep her family in your thoughts and give them the privacy they need at this time.”
The Texas-born siblings developed their musical abilities thanks to the grandparents who raised them, with Willie on guitar and Bobbie on piano, and the duo actually initially played together in a band with Bobbie’s husband, Bud Fletcher, until Fletcher died in a car accident.
That left Bobbie alone as a single mother of three children, prompting her to quit music and get a steady office job, but she rejoined her brother in 1972 when he signed with Atlantic Records to form the Family Band and had stuck by his side ever since.
“She’s my closest friend”
Variety reported that the last gig played by the Nelson siblings was on Oct. 9, 2021, in New Braunfels, Texas, where like every other concert since the 1970s, Bobbie was barely visible — though certainly heard — while sitting behind her grand piano.
Even though Willie was always the more famous of the two, he often credited her for his own success and made sure that she was involved in everything from their many studio albums to even a pair of books they published together, including the 2020 memoir Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band.
At the time that memoir was released, Willie said in a People magazine interview of Bobbie, “She’s my closest friend for a whole lifetime. I’m glad she’s getting some recognition for what she’s done with her life.”
Brief solo venture
Rolling Stone noted that in addition to playing the piano Bobbie also provided extra vocals in support of her brother, and while the overwhelming majority of her music career was spent in her brother’s band, she did release a solo album in 2008 titled “Audiobiography” that was largely comprised of instrumental pieces, though Willie did sing on a couple of those songs for her.
“If I was the sky, Sister Bobbie was the Earth. She grounded me,” Willie wrote in that 2020 memoir. “There is no longer or stronger or steadier relationship in my life.”