Bobbie Nelson, Sister and Bandmate of Willie Nelson, Dies at 91: 'So Lucky to Have Had Her'

Willie Nelson once told PEOPLE that Bobbie was "the most naturally talented of all the Nelsons"

willie and bobbie nelson
Willie Nelson and Bobbie Nelson. Photo: Todd V. Wolfson

Bobbie Nelson, the beloved sister and longtime bandmate of country legend Willie Nelson, has died. She was 91.

Bobbie — whom Willie once told PEOPLE was "the most naturally talented of all the Nelsons" — died Thursday morning, "peacefully and surrounded by family," a statement shared to Willie's social media read.

"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," the statement said. "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 siblings had been playing and touring extensively together since 1973, when Bobbie officially joined her younger brother's band, Willie Nelson and Family.

"When we get into the music, something happens," Bobbie told PEOPLE in September 2020. "There's magic between me and Willie."

willie and bobbie nelson
Willie and Bobbie Nelson in 1973. DAVID GAHR/GETTY

Over the years, the pair leaned on each other amid grief and tragedy. Bobbie's son Michael was diagnosed with HIV in 1986, and died of AIDS three years later. Six months after that, she lost her oldest son Randy in a single-vehicle accident.

"There's a lot of things that happened during our lives, I would've never thought of explaining to someone," Bobbie told PEOPLE. "And now that it's happened, there's not anything for me to say except tell someone that you can survive."

After Willie's oldest son Billie died in 1991, the siblings grew even closer amid their shared pain, a bond they discussed in the joint memoir Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band, which they released in 2020.

Bobbie Nelson
Bobbie Nelson in 2019. Gary Miller/Getty Images

"It wasn't that we had long talks about our grief. That's not Willie's way. We didn't have to talk about it. We knew," Bobbie wrote in their book. "I knew what Willie was going through. He knew how I was suffering. And the mere fact of being together made the burden a little lighter."

Though their musical legacies are intertwined, Bobbie released her own debut album, Audiobiography, in 2007, which featured Willie's vocals and guitar on two songs.

"She's my closest friend for a whole lifetime," Willie, 88, said in 2020. "I'm glad she's getting some recognition for what she's done with her life."

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