The Nelson Family is mourning the loss of Bobbie Nelson, who passed away on Thursday morning, March 10, peacefully at home surrounded by family. She was 91 years old.
“Her elegance, grace, beauty and talent made this world a better place,” a statement from the Nelson family reads. “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.”
Bobbie Nelson played piano for Willie Nelson, in both the studio and as part of his touring band, for more than 50 years. She was an original member of the Willie Nelson and Family Band and was raised alongside Willie by their grandparents in the tiny town of Abbot, Texas.
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“My grandfather had said to me when I was learning to play the piano: You know, if you really work at this, you could earn your living playing music one day.” Bobbie once said. “And I never forgot that.”
Bobbie and Willie played honky-tonks together by the time they were in their teens and later formed a band with Bobbie’s husband, Bud Fletcher, and their guitar-playing father Ira Nelson. Tragedy struck when Fletcher died in a car accident, leaving Bobbie to raise three young sons. She ended up giving up music to pursue a college degree to obtain an office job.
She eventually found her way back to music and ended up working for the Hammond Organ Company. She later began working as a piano entertainer in restaurants, lounges and supper clubs, eventually earning her living as a pianist in Austin and Nashville.
“It was a fabulous thing, because I was back really playing music again, not just demonstrating and selling organs,” she explained. “I was very happy to be able to sit down and just play from my heart and soul.”
In 1972, Willie invited Bobbie to join him in New York for a recording session and soon asked her to join his band.
“I was just so happy to be playing music with Willie again,” she recalled. And since then, she was an essential element of his stage shows and many of his classic albums.