Willie Nelson’s “Little Sister” Bobbie Has Passed Away
She was known as “Sister Bobbie” in the Willie Nelson universe, and Willie always referred to her affectionately as “Little” Sister Bobbie, even though she was two years her senior. For nearly half a century, she accompanied her little brother on piano as part of Willie Nelson’s Family Band, and played on countless of his studio recordings as well. Sister Bobbie was a rock in country music. And now just like the other legacy members of Willie Nelson’s legendary band—bassist Bee Spears, guitarist Jody Payne, and Paul “The Devil” English—Sister Bobby has passed on at the age of 91.
Born on New Years Day in 1931, Bobbie Nelson was raised by her grandparents just like brother Willie after their biological mother moved to Portland, Oregon, and their father was rarely around. Growing up singing Gospel music in church, she was given a pump organ at the age of five, and after impressing Grandpa Nelson while singing in front of 1,000 people at the Hillsboro, TX courthouse, he bought her a $35 piano at the age of six. As Willie began to grow older and picked up the guitar, the two began performing together.
The first semi professional band for both Bobbie and Willie was called Bud Fletcher and the Texans. Bobbie Nelson married Bud Fletcher at the age of sixteen, and proceeded to have three children—Michael, Randy, and Freddy. The band disbanded in 1955, soon Bobbie and Bud divorced, and when Bud died in 1961, Bud’s parents petitioned to have Bobbie’s kids taken from her since she played in honky tonks, even though by all accounts, she rarely or ever drank. To regain custody, Bobbie moved to Fort Worth, worked briefly in a TV repair shop and later for the Hammond Organ Company, and later remarried, in part to get her kids back.
It was in 1973 during country music’s Outlaw revolution that Bobbie Nelson would rejoin her brother in music. And once she did, she never left. In 1973—fed up with RCA and the way the label insisted Willie Nelson record other people’s songs with studio musicians—he signed with Jerry Wexler and Atlantic Records, and won creative control to record with whomever he wished. His first pick was to recruit Sister Bobbie.
The results are now the stuff of country music legend. Willie Nelson released the albums Shotgun Willie (1973) and Phases and Stages (1974) for Atlantic, and later, his masterpiece, Red Headed Stranger (1975), all featuring Bobbie Nelson on piano. The Family Band had also taken form for live performances with Bobbie as the beating heart, along with Bee Spears, Jody Payne, Paul English, and harmonica player Mickey Raphael.
Bobbie Nelson’s contributions to the Willie Nelson sound weren’t just functional. Willie Nelson always considered Bobbie the superior musician, and her honky-tonk style of melodically-sensible playing became a signature of the Willie Nelson sound, right beside the nylon string tone of Willie’s guitar Trigger, and Mickey Raphael’s mournful harp. The 1978 live album Willie and Family Live remains a testament to the chemistry of this legendary country band, as do numerous appearances on Austin City Limits, including the pilot episode of the series.
Bobbie Nelson released her debut solo album in 2017 called Autobiography, and released two books with her brother—Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of The Family Band (2020), and a children’s book, Sister, Brother, Family: An American Childhood in Music. Bobbie was also inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2017.
It had been reported that Bobbie Nelson was admitted to the hospital earlier in 2022, and was not expect to join Willie Nelson back out on the road. She passed away Thursday, March 10th, “peacefully and surrounded by family,” according to the Willie Nelson camp.
More than just a sister or a piano player, Sister Bobbie Nelson was a country music institution with her signature long hair and cowboy hat, tickling the ivories in one of the most legendary bands in country music history for 50 years.
March 10, 2022 @ 11:57 pm
I can’t imagine a Willie concert without him throwing it to Bobbie and saying “play them one little sister.” Play “Down Yonder” all the way to heaven Bobbie.
March 11, 2022 @ 4:26 am
Willie’s “Red Headed Stranger” album was my introduction to Bobbie’s keyboard skills. She added quite a bit to the overall musical production. Yeah, “Down Yonder” was a foot tapper. Godspeed on angel wings, Bobbie! Peace and prayers to Willie and Family, and friends.
March 11, 2022 @ 1:58 pm
WOW! God’s got one heck of a band up there now! Got almost the whole Family Band! God speed Bobbie! You where one awesome piano player!
March 12, 2022 @ 12:58 am
Willie and Family. I have loved you all since the early 70’s and never missed a concert within driving distance. So I saw a lot of you two. I always loved her solo parts and she could just makes your heart soar to see what she did without a piece of music in front of her. Things will not be the same for your family but I’m so glad she was a part of your band. My life is richer because I heard her 🎵🎶 play – and oh she could make the piano speak. RIP little Sister – heaven got a precious angel. So sorry for your loss.
March 14, 2022 @ 5:03 pm
Dear Willie and Family,
My deepest condolences on the passing of Little Sister Bobbie. It wont be the same without her.
March 13, 2022 @ 12:56 pm
I’ve been a fan of the Willy Nelson Family since the late 60’s. Saw them in concert in Phila, NYC, San Diego, Luckenback, and in Reno several times. I watched the trials that Willie endured through those years including the loss of Grady Martin, Bee Spears, Johnny Gimble, Freddie Powers Paul English and now Lil sister Bobbie. Through it all Willie haspersevered, never complaining always performing. I had the good luck to meet Paul English in the Dallas Airport and had a wonderful visit with Willie in the Reno airport whilst we were waiting on flights to different destinations.He asked where I was going and when I told him I was going to Southern Calif to play a little golf and do some pickin & grinning to Willie and Kris he replied ” sounds like fun, can I go”? I offered to buy him a ticket but he declined, saying he had to get back to Austin. Through all this sister Bobby was always in the background doing unbelievable things on her piano. Never self serving always just there.
Willie, we love you and we join you in your grief over losing your sister.
March 11, 2022 @ 3:17 pm
I’m sorry for ur loss.Sorry to have missed her.Ive been waiting for 2 years to attend your concert in oklahoma but unfortunately that never happened.God Bless you Willie n your family Bobbie will be playing in Heaven.
March 11, 2022 @ 6:49 pm
Prayers for Willie and Family.
God Bless Y’all
March 11, 2022 @ 9:16 pm
Loved to hear her play on the religious song. Wow, she was fantastic.
Sorry Willie and family ❤️
March 12, 2022 @ 10:34 am
My prayers for there family never be forgotten and toss away like a lot of legends have in the music industry. Love there music always
March 12, 2022 @ 7:55 pm
So sorry about your sister passing away. I was told that God takes the best first, seems like it is right. She was your great sister, but also a part of your family that none of y’all want to give up. It’s hard to loose someone as sweet as she was and as loved .
March 18, 2022 @ 8:14 am
I can solely say much but to this is actually not anything of this Bobbie was more than just a Amazing Sister I can do relate, very much send my condolences for you Willie, know very much how she was your Best friend & everything too, true Life ❤️ Always with us All through & through memories are 4 EVER, So plz hope evetually you yourself reads these certain messages from ppls From your Family Fans really Matters, from the HEART & Aspects of certain degree from whom wote, written out. Mr. Willie Nelson yes indeed you are the BEST of the Truth Of Country Musicians , Music, totally I Feel & Know, Believe in my Life ❤️ Always Cindy L. Hughes, & there’s only 1 & this is ME, Mr. Nelson, I know definitely feeling this missing but we’re all grown & some dead with their grief mourning in different bouts , just know I Love you, Your Amazing Genuine Inspiring Beautiful From how you see things & in your Heart, I know this can affect with our Plan to write a Wonderful outstanding Beautiful Song, You have so many from younger years that you can intermix maybe or Not any from my HEART ❤️ truly 💗☮️🙌🙏 For All of The Best FAMILY members Ever!! 🤔 Love You your Music truly very Appreciative in my Life & Family, Too ❤️☮️❤️ Inspiration Encouraging Motivation Always for Each & Everyone LOVE’M All
March 11, 2022 @ 12:02 pm
Crying as I type for Little Sis Bobbie. Was at the Rodeo with my husband celebrating 50 years of our first date in March, 2018. Willie and the gang were the Stars and Bobbie was also a shining star. San Antonio , Texas Rodeo. First time I heard Willie sing was in Austin during Round Up in 1967 . Still love him! Susan B
Yellow rose lee
March 11, 2022 @ 3:12 pm
Bobby we knew each other I meet u at the OK state fair back in 1977 I was going to get tickets here in NOLA
Mary N Pulley
March 11, 2022 @ 5:00 pm
MY HEART IS FEELING SADDNESS FOR WILLIE AND THE OTHERS. Loosing your sibling is so hard at no matter what age. and to the people who worked with her in the band, she was family. I will miss her beating the keys on her piano while I watch my favorite ” Little Brother Willie “.
March 12, 2022 @ 12:35 am
Mr.Willie Nelson , I’m are here to let you know in Austin and throughout the world we loves, you Willie and appreciate you sharing with us , and Im here to tell you that Ms Bobby is out of that body but is present with the good Lord up above, she is keeping her eyes on the sparrow and the Lord watches over thee ! Wow 91 years, oh she wears her golden crown and wears new custom made gowns! She is an Angel !!
March 12, 2022 @ 10:33 am
I watched honeysuckle rose movie and I think she had one line in that film. She kept to herself amid that rowdy bunch of band members. She was the calm in the middle the eye of the musical hurricane. Rip Bobbie and God now has a piano player in his angel band
March 13, 2022 @ 7:42 am
The angels have taken her to her home R.I.P. Bobbie my condolences are to the family.
Sorry for your loss Willie.🙏🙏🙏
March 11, 2022 @ 12:33 am
Oh, no …
March 11, 2022 @ 2:01 am
sad news, reading Willie’s biography i was impressed by the musical fondness of Bobbie. She mastered piano and organ at an early age, incredible talent.What a beautiful musical life. R.I.P.
March 11, 2022 @ 10:25 am
She’ll be making music for the Master now. Prayers for you & your family, RIP sister. 🙂
March 11, 2022 @ 11:12 pm
May she rest peacefully but play her beautiful music as well in the heavens forever. My condolences to Willie and the entire family and anyone who knew Bobbie🙏❤
David: The Duke of Everything
March 11, 2022 @ 5:33 am
Very sad but yet a life well lived. Didn’t know about their childhood. While it shouldn’t have been necessary, it was a cool thing she did to keep her family together. Particularly after learning about her mom and dad. It always astounds me how someone can just take off and leave their kids but at same time, maybe they knew they couldn’t do what was needed. Thank God for the grandparents. I would imagine that Willie and his sister thought very highly of them.
March 11, 2022 @ 6:27 am
The book she wrote with Willie is a must-read and talks in depth about all of that stuff. A true legend indeed RIp Bobbie!
March 11, 2022 @ 8:47 am
My thoughts and prayers for her family and friends. The circle is unbroken. Hugs.
March 12, 2022 @ 6:47 am
I am so very sorry for your loss Willie!!! I love and miss you my friend!! ♥️
March 11, 2022 @ 4:13 pm
So sad to hear sister Bobbie has passed,but she will always be in Willie’s heart, she’s rockin ‘in heaven!!!! love to her family and you Willie
love ❤️😘 ❤️😘 Sandi Whitlock in Vinton Virginia ps-my God bless you Willie and family always and forever my friend RIP BOBBIE you will be greatly missed but not forgotten in our hearts
March 11, 2022 @ 5:35 am
RIP Bobbie, One of the Best!
March 11, 2022 @ 5:59 am
March 11, 2022 @ 7:16 am
I’can only be sad as I know the world is not a better place without her but the angels are singing. Sorry Willie our national treasure.
March 11, 2022 @ 8:30 am
I’m going to try the hey to say goodbye to her and good she said good bye
March 11, 2022 @ 8:58 am
aw man, sadness. RIP Ms Bobbie.
Willie always said she was the one that knew music better than him.
March 11, 2022 @ 12:07 pm
Saw you in Highland Park, Ill last fall so glad i made the trip from Mi. Rip
March 11, 2022 @ 9:00 am
Verry🙏😇Sad Hearing about Willie’s Sister. I wish all Condolences to His Him& His Beaut. Family.🙏🌼🙏🌸. I no that Willie,is So Wonderful,in his Music& Her,Along with Him. Im Sure,🤠🙏😔😪
He’s feeling Very Sad,at this Time.knowing She’s gone. She’s Lived,Very Many yrs.Knowing Everythng in Life.& Spirit.The Lord Gave her a Blessing 2 live this Far.May u be with the 🙏4evver Bobbie. We’ ll All Miss Uu,& Nevee 4get Uu.
March 11, 2022 @ 9:06 am
Dear, willie we are very sorry to have heard a about your sisters passing , we are so very sorry . Our love & prayers , for the family willie Nelson , family we love you all. Praying for u all.
March 11, 2022 @ 3:24 pm
So sorry for your family. Bobbie will be rocking in heaven with the rest of the family.Sorry to have missed her.Ive been waiting for your concert in oklahoma for 2 years.God Bless you Willie n your family.
March 11, 2022 @ 9:55 am
That is devastating. I’m so sorry for Willie and the whole family.
March 11, 2022 @ 10:21 am
To live 91 years is a feat in itself. To live 91 years and be able to share her amazing talent is an even greater accomplishment. I was lucky enough to see Willie and the Family on several occasions, and Bobbie never disappointed. Always smiling, it was obvious she loved what she was doing. She really made the piano come to life! My thoughts and prayers are with her family.
March 11, 2022 @ 10:36 am
You and Bobbie have memories together that no one else has. She has left a hole in your life that on one else can fill. Grief is the price for live like the two of you had
March 11, 2022 @ 11:20 am
She had a good life and good company. She got to see and play with Waylan Jennings, Johnny Cash and many others.
And to be 91 she had a full life. Still very sad though.
March 11, 2022 @ 12:20 pm
Sad news, but hardly a shock. I bet Willie spent more time with Bobbie in his adult life than with any other woman or probably any other person of either sex.
I’m glad I got to see Willie and Family–in Carnegie Hall, of all places–in addition to seeing the Highwyamen a couple of times. (But then, Buck did a famous live album from Carnegie Hall.)
If Willie were to take Bobby’s passing as an opportunity to announce his retirement, I would not call that a bad idea.
March 11, 2022 @ 12:23 pm
So sorry to hear about Bobbie. God Bless you and your family.
March 11, 2022 @ 12:41 pm
Another intrinsic artist so important to the Nelson family legacy Bobbie so enriched our collective experience by always providing her part to the magic we’ve been given in concert and on so many recordings-thank you Bobbie from “all of us”🌹
March 11, 2022 @ 4:45 pm
Another Iconic musical hero has left us. God speed Bobbie Nelson I am blessed to have heard you play through the years.
March 11, 2022 @ 12:44 pm
When the time is right Willie, you can grace us with a tribute song to your little sister. Music is the outlet to grief and country music/ blues are made out of grief and pain. Hope your pain heals through your heartfelt music.
March 11, 2022 @ 12:56 pm
So very sorry, dearest Willie. My condolences to you and your family. One day, you’ll be reunited. RIP, sweet Bobby.
March 11, 2022 @ 1:23 pm
So sorry to hear. Loved her
March 11, 2022 @ 1:30 pm
So,so very sorry for your loss, lifting you all up in prayer asking our Lord Jesus Christ to wrap His loving arms around you all. ❤
March 11, 2022 @ 1:37 pm
I have never seen Willie Nelson or his sister Bobbie in concert, but I have read the books and I listen to Willie’s music all the time. My heart is breaking for him, as I know he will have a hole in his heart and soul without his beloved sister. May you rest in quiet peace Bobbie with a song in your heart forever and Willie may her music be a balm to your soul.
March 11, 2022 @ 2:05 pm
Spirit, the acoustic album Willie recorded with Bobbie, is my all time favourite Willie album. Actually, the album is one of my all time favourites, period. Go Rest High, Bobbie. Prayers for Willie and family.
Joan and J.D.
March 11, 2022 @ 2:18 pm
We are so sorry for your lost.I hope that every time you are thinking of her 8t will bring a happy smile to your face. I think she would like that, don’t you. Out ares of hugs, love,and many prayers for you and your family..J.D. and Joan. God is with you always.keep sing and playing. Be Happy.
Jane Patterson Daniel
March 11, 2022 @ 3:23 pm
So sorry for Willie and the rest of his family as GOD called another angel Home!!!
March 11, 2022 @ 2:36 pm
R.I.P. Bobbie. I wish Willie the best at this time. I don’t know Willie but I have many friends who know him well. Everyone I know loves Willie and I’m sure the world loves him just as much. Willie is the Ambassador of Texas. Thank you Willie for all you and your family have given us.
March 11, 2022 @ 2:49 pm
So sorry for your loss of little Bobbie Willie. She will always be with you, and you with her❤ Rip Bobbie, God bless. 🙏
March 11, 2022 @ 2:51 pm
Will the circle be unbroken. Angel wings Sister Bobbie. Prayers of comfort and healing to the family.
March 11, 2022 @ 3:14 pm
God bless and keep you Bobbie! You brought great joy to all fans of music. Condolences to Willie, your kids and all your family.
March 11, 2022 @ 3:26 pm
I’m sorry for ur loss.Sorry to have missed her.Ive been waiting for 2 years to attend your concert in oklahoma but unfortunately that never happened.God Bless you Willie n your family Bobbie will be playing in Heaven.
March 11, 2022 @ 4:54 pm
They loved and respected each other deeply. He will miss her but will see her again.
March 11, 2022 @ 6:10 pm
My condolences to Willie & her family. Bobbie must be surrounded by Angels and having a blast, playing country music up in heaven. She had been a maestro at her piano. I wish Willie all the very best & I have been listening to his music all most everyday. His music makes me so joyful everyday!!!
March 11, 2022 @ 5:04 pm
So sorry for the loss of your sister Willie. 💔
March 11, 2022 @ 6:13 pm
My condolences to the Nelson family , I met your sister while working on Honeysuckle rose so many years ago and I remember she was a very classy lady , she was nice to me and I’ve always remembered it , a nobody prop maker and she took the time to talk to me , I had long red hair too so go figure
March 11, 2022 @ 6:29 pm
Prayers for Willie and family. I just lost my sister also. It leaves a awful hole in your ❤. My God help you through this loss. Praying in South Carolina
March 11, 2022 @ 11:34 pm
Blessings to the family. And may your sweet sister watch over you all forever. Rest. In. Peace sweet Lady. End
Ann B. Smith
March 11, 2022 @ 6:33 pm
So sorry for your loss Mr. Willie Nelson. 🙏 🙏❤❤ Praying for you and your family. God Bless you all. RIP Ms. Bobbie Nelson. 😔❤🙏
March 11, 2022 @ 7:51 pm
A life so we’ll lived cannot be replaced
March 11, 2022 @ 8:35 pm
What a full life she led. Thank you.
March 11, 2022 @ 8:48 pm
Dearest Willie, my most favorite songwriter and performer. I am so so sorry for your loss. I can’t say that enough. God bless you and your family and grant you peace. My thoughts are with you totally ❤ 💕. Love always.
March 11, 2022 @ 8:56 pm
So very sorry for your loss to the nelson family. Bobbie will be playing in heaven now. She will be so missed by Willie and all the family. May God ve with you all at this time
March 11, 2022 @ 8:57 pm
Willie and his loved ones are in my prayers, and we know our Lord decides when it is best to welcome His children home. May He watch over you all.
March 11, 2022 @ 11:50 pm
Sorry. Dont know what your comment means
Just kind words to Family who are suffering from their loss.
Would have done this moderation but pardon me if I do not know what it is. Thank you.
March 12, 2022 @ 2:55 am
Dear Willie. So sorry for your loss. Sincere Condolences
March 12, 2022 @ 4:05 am
Willie, so sorry for your loss, she was truly special and will be missed by all.
March 12, 2022 @ 4:12 am
We saw them at the Houston Rodeo a couple of years ago. She could really play that piano. It was obvious that Willie loved her.
March 12, 2022 @ 5:35 am
My condolences to you Mr. Nelson. You will be incredibly missed little sister.
March 12, 2022 @ 6:47 am
May she rest on God’s right knee until all she loved can join her in paradise ❤️
March 12, 2022 @ 7:38 am
I enjoyed reading “me and sister Bobbie.” Sorry for your loss Willie. Martha SmithLove your music and of course what Bobbie added to your band.
March 12, 2022 @ 9:00 am
God bless you Little Sister and may your soul R. I. P. Live your music.
March 12, 2022 @ 9:44 am
Sorry for you and yours lost Willie. Many condolences and prayers since your way🙏☮🙏
March 12, 2022 @ 10:32 am
I live streamed Beach Fest to see you sing and saw her at the piano Redondo Beach CA. I KNOW THE HUMIDITY AND COOL WEREN’T Fun, Still you all gave a great performance .I noticed how well she and you worked together, and how she seemed to love doing that.
March 12, 2022 @ 11:07 am
On the road again! You think of Willie and Bobbie, Jody Payne, Paul English, and Mickey Raphael. I’m 62 now and one by one they leave the Earth. One by one their Spirit takes flight. And one by one my heart mourns.
March 12, 2022 @ 2:31 pm
Sorry for your loss on the bright though Heaven has a beautiful angel now. My prayers are with you and your family.
March 12, 2022 @ 3:46 pm
She lived a long life doing what she loved with people she loved. May she rest in peace now.
Daniel & James
March 12, 2022 @ 6:02 pm
Rest in peace Bobbie Nelson n you were the best that ever one had
March 12, 2022 @ 6:32 pm
Willie’s, Energy Follows Thought, from the ticker tape above, is very sweet.
March 12, 2022 @ 7:50 pm
I’m so sorry. Just know we r eternal.beings… and love never dies….✌️❤️🦋.
Michelle L Keller
March 12, 2022 @ 9:24 pm
God bless Willie’s sister. She played the piano like a professional. My husband, young son, and I were at a concert in South Dakota. Excellent playing and wonderful music that came out of her. Willie was also damn good. Would’ve have loved to have met him. Excellent music and a wonderful concert.
March 13, 2022 @ 3:24 am
I’m so sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with Willie and his family! Her work on earth is done. She has left lots of good memories. She won’t be forgotten. Rest In Peace beautiful lady❤️
March 13, 2022 @ 10:12 am
I’m so sorry for your loss. My thoughts and Prayers are with you 🙏 ❤️
March 13, 2022 @ 6:28 pm
Hey Trigger it’s The Tallman and I’ve just fell in love with Willies new release-“I’ll love you till the day I die” Holy modern country masterpiece! Please do the review of this song/video written by perhaps other great ones and we’ll all chime in
Mark and Sandi Schulte
March 13, 2022 @ 8:03 pm
Dear Nelson and Fletcher families were so saddened by the loss of our Precious Sister Bobbie she was such a marvelous paino player and always buy her brothers side the Lord will have her as his angei from now on. We were very lucky to have had the opportunity to have heard her play for so many years She will be missed not to be replaced
March 15, 2022 @ 4:12 pm
I’M SORRY TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED WITH YOUR SISTER, BUT LOOK AT THE POSITIVE SIDE OF IT. SHE MAY BE GONE IN SIGHT, BUT SHE WILL NEVER LEAVE YOUR *HEART*AND ALSO REMEMBER THAT SHE IS RIGHT BY YOUR SIDE. LOOKING DOWN AT YOU, WITH A SMILE ON HER FACE.
March 22, 2022 @ 10:06 am
John & Joan Underwood, Bozeman, MT Willie and Nelson families, We have attended every Willie concert in Montana over many years. Most all included Bobbie. She was a fantastic musician and wonderful honky tonk piano master! She will greatly missed by all country music fans here on earth—Now, all those in Heaven will be thrilled with her music. We now watch Nelson family music on YouTube and play albums. We send heart felt sympathies to the entire Nelson families!