redheaded, but not a stranger
Willie Nelson's family talks life and legacy of late sister Bobbie at Austin museum
Austin basically has a royal family, and they're called the Nelsons. Willie Nelson was an incredible solo artist, but talent runs in the family — and he didn't always work alone.
On January 10, the Bullock State History Museum is hosting a free talk with some Nelson family members to honor Willie's late older sister Bobbie Nelson's legacy during her birth month. Called Hight Noon Talk: Bobbie Nelson's Legacy, this storytelling opportunity is part of a series at the museum that honors "interesting and often untold stories of Texas."
Bobbie played piano with Willie in honky-tonks early in their careers, when it was still unusual to see women in the band. (She even reflected on the hardship of relying on this taboo income source to NPR.)
She later joined Willie's Family Band, where at first she was the singer's only actual blood relative (with equally stunning hair), and really hit her stride while recording on Willie's iconic 1975 album, Redheaded Stranger. Willie was very complimentary of his sister, and the two even co-wrote a memoir, Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band.
Bobbie Nelson passed away in March 2022 at the age of 91. That year, her Steinway Model B grand piano, gifted to her by Willie, became part of the museum's collection, along with some other signature items like her cowboy boots and hat. Visitors to the Bullock will be able to view them in a new context after hearing from the family.
Speakers will include "some combination" of the pianist's son Freddy Fletcher, daughter-in-law Lisa Fletcher, and granddaughter Ellie Fletcher. That's according to curator Angie Glasker, who was still finalizing details when speaking to CultureMap.
"This one was actually pretty easy for me, because we worked — or I got to work — pretty closely with the family," says Glasker. "And it's really just getting to know what the family finds important, as well as what I think is is interesting as an outsider. There were several conversations with her family about what they would like to see on display and what would be available for us to borrow."
Glasker will ask Nelson's family members guiding questions about her early life and the magic within the family that resulted in so much creative outpouring; taking care of her three sons while balancing a musician's lifestyle; and leaping into her professional career with Willie that eventually brought them on tour together for nearly the rest of her life.
Although even the most casual Willie Nelson fan must be aware of Bobbie's work — whether they realize it or not — Glasker offers some favorite recordings to brush up on.
Willie's album Stardust was a joint idea between the two siblings, moving on from the singer's famous "outlaw" sound to something more referential. Looking back, of course it would make sense for the Nashville songwriter to put his own spin on others' classics, and Stardust was a big success.
The Troublemaker and Shotgun Willie, both recorded in back-to-back Austin sessions, are worth a listen as the siblings' first recordings together. These sessions inspired Willie's oft-quoted testimony of his sister to producer Jerry Wexler: “I immediately thought of Bobbie. She was the main spark I’d been missing.”
Nelson's personal effects will be on display at the Bullock until November 2024. Other topics in the High Noon series have included the mysterious Freemasons, Comanches in film, and the bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge.
The talk will be held at the Bullock Museum, 12-1 pm January 10. No RSVPs are needed. More information is available at thestoryoftexas.com.