Little Nora plays the banjo

Mention Little Nora to a banjo player, and they are likely to imagine an old time mountain ballad about a little girl who wanders away from her home and meets a frightful end.

That was the function of these old story songs, to warn people away from dangerous behavior. Learn enough of them as a child and they become part of your rules for life. Don’t go down to the river with an untrue love, and never – ever – engage with an awful, dreadful snake.

But the Little Nora we speak of is a real life girl, Nora Brown, a preteen Brooklynite whose true love is old time banjo. She performs in the subways of New York City, and at any other place her parents believe is safe for her to go. She gets out to the festivals in the summer time, and took the first place ribbon for youth banjo at Clifftop in 2017.

Now Nora has found herself the subject of a three-minute short film directed by Joshua Weinstein, shown during the recent Tribeca Film Festival.

Weinstein says he discovered her by accident, and the world of mountain music along with it.

“I love seeing live music, and my favorite venue in New York City, is a little place in Brooklyn called Barbes. Their programing is always interesting and worth a listen. I remember taking a look at their schedule and it mentioned a 12 year old banjo player, after that I was hooked.

To be honest, I am not an expert of old time and bluegrass, but through making this piece with Nora I got to hear music I wasn’t exposed to. Nora’s story is what brought me to the music. My biggest influence in cinema is the Coen brothers, and the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack opened up a world of music I had never listened to. The last scene of Nora playing in Barbes was a riff on the opening scene of Inside Llewyn Davis.”

Joshua spent some time with Nora and filmed her at home and on stage, getting her to open up about her love for a type of music that comes from long ago and far away. It’s like a three minute biography of this amazing little girl.

Little Nora was produced by Allison Rodgers for Brickhouse Projects, with colorizing by Irving Harvey.

Weinstein’s films have been shown at the Sundance, Berlin, and Camerimage film festivals, and have received nominations and awards for journalistic and advertising work. He is also a musician, having played bass in a hardcore band called Trophy Scars.

We look forward to hearing more from Miss Nora Brown in years to come. You can keep up with her on Facebook.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.