Steinway Model B grand piano

Instrument of Bobbie Nelson, Country Music Pioneer

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Bobbie Nelson (1931–2022) played piano in Willie Nelson’s The Family Band for five decades, both on tour and in the studio. This Steinway Model B grand piano traveled with her.

Bobbie Nelson, country music pioneer and Willie Nelson’s older sister, was five when she began playing piano. She got her start alongside Willie in the 1940s when she married musician Bud Fletcher. Still teenagers, Bobbie and Willie began playing gigs with Fletcher as Bud Fletcher & the Texans. After Bobbie and Bud divorced in 1955, she spent the next two decades teaching piano lessons and playing in restaurants, supper clubs, and lounges.

In 1973, she joined Willie’s The Family Band and never left. By the time she joined, Bobbie already had a lot of experience playing piano in supper clubs and lounges but as Willie’s bassist told her, ‟You’re gonna have to get out of those cocktail costumes and into some tight jeans and cowboy boots.” And she did. She was a petite woman though, and oftentimes audiences could only see the top of her cowboy hat peaking over the open piano. Her passionate, gospel-tinged playing, however, was impossible to miss, praised by critics and audiences alike.

Bobbie Nelson also played as a studio musician for her brother, with Willie referring to her as ‟the main spark I’d been missing.” She first joined in for the Shotgun Willie recording sessions in 1973, the hit album that kicked off Willie’s outlaw era. Later, she was awarded a platinum record for playing on Stardust, an album she heavily influenced. According to Willie, “Having Bobbie in the band changed the course of my music in more ways than most people understand. No one knows more standards than Bobbie.” One night while rehearsing by themselves, Bobbie started playing “Stardust,” her most loved standard, and Willie started singing along. He asked Bobbie what other songs she would put on an album devoted to favorites from the past. They cut the whole album in a week, and it went quintuple platinum.

At first, Bobbie didn’t travel with her own instrument, using whatever piano the venue provided. Most were adequate at best. Willie eventually bought Bobbie her own piano to take on the road, ensuring she’d have a fine, properly tuned instrument every night. This Steinway Model B grand piano traveled with her for much of her five decades with The Family Band. Bobbie played her last show in October 2021, just five months before her death.

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Steinway Model B grand piano Artifact from Austin, TX
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