Willie Nelson grew up watching his sister, Bobbie Nelson, play the family piano. “Sister Bobbie is 10 times the musician that I am. I would be on the piano stool beside her trying to figure out what she was doing,” Willie, 87, gushed on Today.
From their days growing up in Abbott, Texas, the siblings have always been there for each other. Their new book, Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales From the Family Band, reveals the history of that strong connection. “There’s a lot of things that happened during our lives,” admits Bobbie, 89. “There’s not anything for me to say except [to] tell someone that you can survive.”
Bobbie, who joined Willie’s band in 1973 as a keyboardist and backing vocalist, has held her brother’s hand through several health crises. In 1981, one of Willie’s lungs collapsed while he was swimming in Hawaii. More recently, he underwent stem cell therapy after recurrent bouts of emphysema and pneumonia. “I have abused my lungs quite a bit in the past, so I have to be careful,” he says.
Willie faced an even bigger emotional challenge when his son Billy Nelson died in 1991. “I’ve never experienced anything so devastating in my life,” Willie told a friend. Bobbie, who had also lost two sons months before, shared his heartache. “We didn’t have to talk about it,” Bobbie explains. “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.”
Today, the siblings are anticipating more joyful moments, like celebrating Bobbie’s 90th birthday on Jan. 1. “She’s my closest friend for a whole lifetime,” Willie says. “I’m glad she’s getting some recognition for what she’s done with her life.”