Willie Nelson’s touching tribute to his late sibling

Willie Nelson, an icon of country music, has enriched our lives for the past 80 years. He will reach 90 years old in 2023!

Nelson is exceptional in that he has continued to play on stage at such an advanced age; at times, it seems as though he is the last survivor of the country music’s golden age.

Unfortunately, it also means that throughout the years, he has had to say goodbye to a lot of friends and coworkers.

Willie Nelson, a legendary figure in country music, is still active and released his 72nd solo studio album in 2022.On his 89th birthday, the album A Beautiful Time was released and garnered favorable reviews from music reviewers.

However, the Family, Nelson’s touring and recording ensemble, experienced significant catastrophes in 2022. Bobbie, Willie’s elder sister, died in March at the age of 91. Few people are aware that she played with Willie and led an extraordinary life despite living in the shadow of her famous brother.

Willie and Bobbie Nelson, who were born during the Great Depression and were reared by their grandparents, were raised in the small farming town of Abbott, Texas, which is located midway between Dallas and Waco. Two years before her brother was born, in 1931, Bobbie was born.

”Might sound corny, but the truth is we were dirt poor in material possessions, but we were rich in love,” Willie wrote in his memoir in 2015.

Bobbie’s grandmother and grandfather inspired her to pursue music, and she has performed with her brother for more than 50 years.

”Willie and I had always lived with Dad’s parents, Alfred and Nancy Nelson. I was not told why,” Bobbie said in the book Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band.

“I liked the arrangement because our grandparents were kind and caring. But I was also comforted by the knowledge that my mom and dad lived right next to us. Willie and I saw them every day. My parents rounded out my world. So to see that world fall apart scared me to death.”

Bobbie began using a pump organ and a keyboard when she was five years old. Following her performance at a gospel convention in Texas a year later, she would receive a standing ovation from thousands of spectators.

Everyone who saw Bobbie’s talent knew she had it, so her grandfather made the decision to get her a piano so she could pursue her passion.

Bobbie used to play and sing with Willie throughout her whole childhood, while their grandmother often joined in. Later, she and her brother started singing in school acts and at their church.

”My grandmother was a wonderful teacher,” Bobbie said.  

After turning 14, Bobbie started putting up shows with evangelists and touring Texas. Bobbie has never before had the opportunity to visit Austin and travel throughout the state.

She also met Bud Fletcher, her first husband, at this time. They met in the church after he had just arrived in America after serving in World War II. Four months after they first met, they got married. Bobbie had just turned 16 and Bud was 22.

“When I got married, Bud immediately organized our first band,” Bobbie told Austin Chronicle in 2008.

”He loved Willie, and Willie went with us on all of our dates. He also loved to dance and to drink beer, and he knew all the joints in West and Waco, which Willie and I had never been to. It was a big beginning for me.”

In Bud Fletcher and the Texans, Bobbie played the piano and Wille sang and played guitar. Fletcher could neither play or sing, so he became the manager.

Unfortunately, Bobbie’s life would enter a tragic and difficult phase after her marriage and partnership with Bud Fletcher. The band was disbanded in 1955 when she filed for divorce from her husband.

“I never did want to divorce him,” she said. “I really loved the man. We didn’t either one want a divorce. But Bud was sick, and I think it was due to drinking. I might be wrong about that, but I was very young and didn’t know exactly what the problem was.”

Randy, Michael, and Freddy, Bobbie’s three sons, were also taken out of her custody. The cause? Because of her profession choice and her involvement with honky-tonks, she was viewed as being unfit to be a mother. Instead, after Bud passed away in a vehicle accident in 1961, they were reared by her ex-husband’s parents.

Bobbie had a physical breakdown as a result of the stress and was sent to a Fort Worth hospital. Years would pass before she fully recovered. Bobbie ultimately made the decision to remarry. She had no other choice, in the judge’s opinion, if she wanted her boys back.

”And he told me that I couldn’t play, that I couldn’t enter inside any place that served alcohol. I didn’t have any reason for them to take my babies away, but they did,” she told Austin Chronicle.

Her younger brother saved her after she reached her lowest point. Willie relocated to Fort Worth in order to assist his sister in getting back on her feet. Despite the fact that Bonnie was two years older than Willie, he always referred to her as her little sister.

After some time, Bobbie was successful in getting a work at a TV repair shop. She also resumed playing the piano, and the Hammond Organ Co. employed her for a long time. She would do this function by teaching others how to play the instrument.

”That was a good experience for me, too, because I had so much music at my fingertips. I was like a little child in a candy store,” she said.

She came to Austin after regaining custody of her boys after nearly two years. Bobbie traveled to Nashville after her third and last marriage fell apart since her brother had come there to pursue a career in music.

Willie’s career flourished throughout the 1970s, which also had an effect on Bonnie.

Willie called his sister after signing with Atlantic Records in 1972, and Bobbie joined him on the piano for the songs. Bobbie eventually started playing the piano on albums like The Troublemaker, Shotgun Willie, and Phases and Stages as a result of their partnership.

This marked the beginning of a brand-new chapter, and Bonnie and Willie went on lengthy tours with Willie’s band, The Family.

Bobbie never intended to perform in front of an audience. Despite having a solo album in 2008, she always preferred to be in Willie’s shadow.

“Our whole life has been one song after another. Learning to play music and his beautiful ability to write songs. I love to play his music. It’s actually my favorite thing in the world to play with Willie,” she told Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2007.

Bobbie and Willie remained close friends all the way through her life. When disasters struck Bobbie—and there were a lot of them, regrettably—they were there for one another.

The gifted pianist lost two of her boys far too early, in addition to her unsuccessful marriages. Michael, Bobbie’s son, passed away at the young age of 36 from leukemia. She had to bid goodbye to her second son, Randy, six months later after he passed away in an automobile accident on New Year’s Eve.

Imagine losing your own child twice in a short period of time; it would be beyond sad. Absolutely horrible. Bobbie turned to her brother and their music for comfort. She found solace and escape from reality by playing with Willie. The best treatment was going on tour with her brother since they were a terrific support system for one another.

“My bond with Bobbie is a testimony to the healing power of family. Ironically, perhaps, our bond was born out of the collapse of our original family,” Willie Nelson wrote in ”Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band”.

In 2021, Bobbie and her brother gave their final performance in New Braunfels, Texas. On March 10, 2022, she passed away in Austin, Texas, at the age of 91. The cause of death is yet unknown.

”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 Nelson family said in a statement.