Willie Nelson's 8 Children: Everything to Know
Willie Nelson is the patriarch of a large, blended family.
The country music legend has five daughters — Lana, 69, Susie, 66, Paula, 53, and Amy, 50, as well as the late Renee Butts — and three sons — Lukas, 35, Micah, 32, and Billy, who died in 1991.
Lana, Susie and Billy were born to Willie and his first wife, Martha Matthews; their marriage lasted from 1952 to 1962. Willie shares daughters Paula and Amy with his third wife, Connie Koepke, whom he was married to for 17 years. The "On the Road Again" singer married Annie D'Angelo in 1991 and together they share sons Lukas and Micah.
Willie also fathered an eighth child, a daughter named Renee, with his friend Mary Haney, but he did not learn of her existence until 2012.
Some of the musician's kids have followed in his footsteps, namely Paula, Amy, Lukas and Micah. In addition to their own projects, they all appeared on the 2021 album The Willie Nelson Family, and have often hit the road with their dad.
"Honestly, right now, playing onstage with my kids is the biggest thrill I can get," Willie told Texas Monthly in 2012.
In a 2017 Rolling Stone mini-documentary, the Texas-born singer described his current stage crew: "It's been a family thing with me just making music with whoever was around. And to have your kids up there doing a good job with you, now that's as good as it gets."
When asked what "kind of a dad" he was, Willie said a lot of people would think he was probably "not a very good one" because of how often he was gone when his kids were growing up. "As they live longer and have families, they'll realize what it all means and what it's all about," he said. His wife, Annie, politely disagreed with Willie's self-assessment. "That's his interpretation," she said. "Ours and how they grew up was, this is a good example of what it means to come here and do what you came here for." She added, "When he was home, he was home."
Willie has close relationships with each of his kids, who frequently post photos with one another and with their dad on social media.
"I have a great family," Willie said on The Big Interview with Dan Rather in 2016. "I have a lot of great kids. They seem to be doing well. I'm proud of them. It doesn't get better than that."
Here's everything to know about Willie Nelson's eight children.
Lynda Renee Butts Facebook
Willie's friend Mary Haney gave birth to a daughter Renee Butts (née Lynda Renee Barley) on Jan. 22, 1953 — although the musician didn't know Renee was his child until 2012.
In his 2012 memoir, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road, he wrote about discovering he had fathered a child with his friend.
"I have an old, dear friend, Mary Haney, who I'd lost touch with but recently met again after decades," he wrote. "Turns out Mary and I had a child together called Renee. It also turns out Renee has a daughter, Noelle, who has a daughter, [Jordyn], who I am happy to now call my great-granddaughter."
He added, "My newly discovered family sure took some time to surface."
Renee married her husband Joel Butts in 1976, and they lived near Houston, where Renee worked as a graphic designer. In 2016, Renee shared a Facebook post celebrating her dad on Father's Day. "This is also my dad and I love him so much," she captioned a photo of her and Willie. "Happy Fathers Day dad. I know I'm a really lucky girl to have two of the finest men in this world be dads to me."
She died in August 2017.
Lana Nelson Fowler, 69
Paula Nelson Instagram
Willie and his first wife, Matthews, welcomed their eldest child, Lana Nelson, on Nov. 11, 1953. Lana had two sons from her first marriage, and later remarried a man named George Fowler in June 1976, per Texas Monthly. The couple went on to have a daughter, Rachel, and a son, Bryan.
Although Lana isn't a musician, she has worked with her dad: She was the costume designer for his 1986 film Red Headed Stranger, which was based on his 1975 album of the same name. Her son Bryan also had a small role in the film, according to Texas Monthly. Lana worked in the costume department for the 1993 TV special Willie Nelson: The Big Six-O as well. Along with her siblings and aunt, she appeared in the documentaries The King of Luck and Lovey: King of the Roadies.
To celebrate Father's Day in 2015, Lana posted a tribute on her dad's website. "My dear father is a sweet, mellow, loving man that makes me light up inside when I look into his eyes," she wrote. "He has been an inspiration and a role model, teaching me the most important lessons of my life."
Susie Nelson, 66
Willie and Matthews' second child, Susie Nelson, was born on May 23, 1956.
At age 27, she returned to school to earn her high school diploma. She also spent a few years playing music and telling stories on Indigenous reservations in the U.S. and Canada (Willie reportedly has Cherokee ancestry).
In 1987, she published Heart Worn Memories: A Daughter's Personal Biography of Willie Nelson. The same year, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Susie had been divorced and widowed before marrying writer and editor Bob Rosenbaum in June.
In 2012, she co-hosted Susie's Gospel Hour with her dad on Willie's Roadhouse, the singer's SiriusXM channel.
William "Billy" Hugh Nelson Jr.
Willie and Matthews' first son, William "Billy" Hugh Nelson Jr., was born on May 12, 1958.
While touring with his dad, Billy met Janet Caldwell, a "radio promo girl" in Nashville. They married and settled in Music City and had one daughter, Raelyn, according to a Spin profile of Willie's granddaughter, who is also a musician.
As reported by PEOPLE, Billy's mother died around Christmas 1989, and at about the same time, he and Caldwell separated. Caldwell gained custody of their daughter, and Billy underwent alcohol abuse treatment in 1990.
Billy and his father were working on a gospel-inspired album before the younger Nelson died by suicide on Christmas Day 1991. "I've never experienced anything so devastating in my life," Willie told a friend.
In 1994, Willie released their completed album, Peace in the Valley: The Gospel Truth Collection. The record included "My Body's Just a Suitcase for My Soul," a duet with his late son. Producer Bob MacDonald Jr. told the Sun-Sentinel that finishing the album "was very tough for Willie," explaining that the singer "had doubts about coming out with this album at all. But now that the record is out, it seems to be helping him to come to grips with the tragedy."
Billy's daughter, Raelyn, is a Nashville-based musician and has two sons and one daughter, according to Gainesville Downtown. She told the outlet that her grandfather Willie is one of her biggest supporters. "He's told me he's really proud of me and that my dad would be really proud of me," she said.
Paula Carlene Nelson, 53
Willie's first child with Koepke, Paula Carlene Nelson, was born on Oct. 27, 1969. She was named after Willie's best friend, the late Paul English, and his wife Carlene, as Paula shared on the podcast One by Willie. Both her father and Paul walked Paula down the aisle at her second wedding.
At the time of Paula's birth, Willie was still married to his second wife, singer Shirley Collie, whom he married in 1963. Collie learned that her husband fathered a child (Paula) with another woman when she found Koepke's hospital bill in 1971.
"I tried to play it off as no big deal. I told her that I had to go to the hospital for something minor," Willie wrote in his memoir, Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band. "Shirley wasn't buying that … [I] was caught flatfooted. Had to get the words out of my mouth. 'Connie's my girlfriend and Paula's our daughter.' " Willie and Collie divorced in 1971, and that same year, the singer married Koepke, whom he met at one of his Houston shows.
After her parents divorced in 1988, Paula moved with her mom to Austin, Texas, and enrolled at Westlake High School. "It was tough going to Westlake. I was 16 and had been living in Colorado since grade school where it didn't matter, but to be Willie Nelson's daughter in Texas was huge," she told the Austin Chronicle in 2008. "[By 12th grade], I was doing a lot of coke, anything I could get my hands on, really."
During her senior year, she entered a treatment center in San Diego. She took correspondence courses to graduate and became the first Nelson to receive a high school diploma.
Paula followed in her father's footsteps and pursued a career in music.
In 2014, Paula released her fifth studio album, Under the Influence. Two years later, the Country Music Association of Texas named her female artist of the year. She's also collaborated with her dad on numerous occasions — she sang "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" on Willie's 2013 cover album To All the Girls, and Willie played guitar on her song "Primrose Path."
"I'm extremely grateful. My dad will text me and say, 'I'm listening to you on your radio. It sounds great. You're sounding great,' " she said on One by Willie. "And that's a huge bonding experience that I wouldn't take anything for."
Amy Lee Nelson, 49
The second daughter of Willie and Koepke, Amy Lee Nelson, was born on July 6, 1973.
She has worked in Hollywood on a handful of projects, including directing the documentary Lovey: King of the Roadies and capturing footage for Kinky Friedman's "Resurrection" music video. She and her dad also appeared in the 2012 documentary Saving America's Horses: A Nation Betrayed.
Following in her father's musical footsteps, Amy is one-half of the band Folk Uke alongside Arlo Guthrie's daughter Cathy Guthrie. The edgy folk band formed in San Diego in 1998 and their song "S— Makes the Flowers Grow" was featured in Super Troopers 2.
Offstage, Amy is an animal activist and has helped to run the Nelson family's nonprofit, Willie's Kids. The organization works to save horses from slaughter. In 2012, Amy and her dad helped to rescue two malnourished horses outside of Nashville and got them to safety on Willie's Texas ranch. At that point, Willie had adopted 68 horses, per the Summerville Journal Scene.
"He's always been for the underdog. He's always taught us that animals are people and horses are smarter than people. He raised us to respect animals," Amy told the outlet of her father. "A lot of guys collect cars. He collects horses. He said, 'I ride a lot better than I drive.' "
In 2021, Amy was honored with the Protect Your People award from Grassroots Leadership for videos she made with Willie supporting human rights, including a cover of Guy Clark's "Immigrant Eyes" and the two-part web series "Love on the Border."
Lukas Autry Nelson, 34
Willie and D'Angelo's first child together, Lukas Autry Nelson, was born on Dec. 25, 1988.
Lukas grew up between Texas and Hawaii and attended the Austin-area Montessori school his mother ran. He then went to junior high and high school in Maui, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Having grown up in a family of musicians, Lukas took an interest in music at a young age. In fact, a song he wrote when he was 11 years old was featured on Willie's album It Always Will Be.
In 2007, Lukas moved to Los Angeles to attend Loyola Marymount University, per NPR. He dropped out the following year to pursue music and began performing with his band, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. The California-based rock group released their sixth album, A Few Stars Apart, in 2021. The group was also Neil Young's road band for a few years.
The singer-songwriter has also worked with his father. Willie sang backup and wrote "Peaceful Solution" for Lukas and his band's first album in 2010. Lukas was also featured on Willie's 2012 album, Heroes. He and his brother Micah joined their dad on tour a handful of times as well.
In 2020, Lukas won a Grammy for his work on A Star Is Born — the same night Willie won his 10th Grammy. Lukas wrote and co-produced several songs in the film; appeared on-screen as a member of Bradley Cooper's character's band; and worked as Cooper's vocal coach. The "Find Yourself" singer also grew close to Lady Gaga during filming, and the two have since written songs together, with Gaga lending backup vocals to his 2017 album.
"Already so humbled to have won a Grammy tonight, but it's a crazy world to be able to win the same night as my dad," Lukas tweeted about his big win. "A rare honor shared only with a few other incredible fathers and sons. So grateful to be a part of his legacy and watch it continue to grow."
Jacob "Micah" Nelson, 32
Willie's youngest child, Jacob Micah Nelson (who goes by his middle name), was born on May 24, 1990, to him and D'Angelo.
In 2012, Micah began releasing music under the moniker Particle Kid, per Pitchfork. The name came from a slip-up of his dad's, who had intended to call his then-14-year-old his "prodigal son."
"It was this incredibly wild stoner moment. The name stuck for some reason … The combination of his Texas accent and how stoned he was made it unforgettable. I'm proud to be the Particle Kid," Micah told the Spokesman-Review in 2022.
The "Still Going" singer added that while Willie was "a great dad," he "was just never into the whole parenting thing."
"My mother was basically a married, single parent. She was the only parent I really knew," he told the outlet, before noting, "but my father has had a huge impact on me. I learned empathy, kindness and generosity from him. I love the way he treats people. I wouldn't be a musician without him."
Micah released his seventh album, Time Capsule, in April 2022. Recorded over about six years, the record includes "Amerikan Lyfe," a collaboration with his father featuring Willie's infectious laugh closing out the track. In the album's track-by-track descriptions, Micah detailed Willie's musical contribution, writing, "It was also very cool that my dad wanted to play [his famous guitar] Trigger and sing on it."
Willie and Micah collaborated again in June 2022, releasing the song, "Die When I'm High (Halfway to Heaven)." Micah was inspired to write the track after his father uttered that exact phrase in between "endless rounds of chess and dominoes." In a press statement, per Pitchfork, Micah described the song as a "love letter" and "tribute" to his father. "I realized it's also a sort of 'f— you' to anyone who ever thought of me as some lost prodigal son who doesn't understand him or respect his legacy just because I've never imitated his style or pandered to his audience," he said.
As for his personal life, Micah married his wife in May 2019. The two have a dog, Tsuki Blu Dascalu Nelson, who is frequently featured on Micah's Instagram account.