Fate Norris


by Hal Rammel (http://www.mustrad.org.uk)

Fate Norris is best known for playing banjo in the hillbilly string band The Skillet Lickers, although he was poorly recorded and can hardly be heard in any of their many recordings.  Fate Norris was born somewhere in northern Georgia probably sometime in the 1890s and was with the Skillet Lickers throughout their recording career from 1924 until 1931.  Although little is known of him before or after this except that he played at those early Atlanta fiddlers’ conventions, he apparently had experience in the medicine show circuit and had a flare for comedy that included a ‘talking doll’ and an elaborate one-man band of six instruments which he took to fairs and fiddlers’ contests throughout the south.  When the Skillet Lickers appeared in Nashville in 1927, it was reported:

Fate Norris, of Dalton, Georgia, the one-man wonder, who plays six individual instrument in an individual band, will also furnish entertainment.  Mr Norris has in his band two guitars, bells, bass fiddle, fiddle, and mouth harp.  He devoted seventeen years to mastery of his art. 

Fiddler Bill Helms recalled seeing Norris at a fiddler’s convention in Chattanooga:

Fate Norris was there too, had a musical soapbox – made out of soap boxes with a pocket knife, and strings from mandolins, guitars, fiddles, autoharps.  Had pedals and knee pads.  Played two instruments with his feet; played a mouth harp. 

There are no recordings of Fate Norris’ one-man band, only these descriptions and a few photographs, one of which shows him sitting before his contraption, fiddle in hand, on a sidewalk in front of a hand-written sign reading: ‘A real string band played by one man will start at 12 pm’.  The photograph reproduced here provides a better view of Norris’ invention, its unusual arrangement of guitars, a large cogwheel, and the three pedals for his left foot and one for his right.  He’s added kazoo to his fiddling and looks as if it is one minute past noon and he is about to launch into his first number.

Another newspaper article about Norris’ appearance in Nashville adds: ‘It required fifteen years, Mr Norris says, for him to perfect his performance’. 


One Response to “Fate Norris”

  1. Sandra K itts Branam Says:

    Would love to know if Fate Norris was ever known to be in the Maynardville or Luttrel area of East Tn

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