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If you’re wondering where videos of cats playing the piano probably originated, you need not look any further than the City of Brotherly Love, which is home to Nora the Piano Cat. Since joining YouTube in 2006, Nora’s videos have amassed millions of views from fans around the globe. Nora’s pet parents, Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow, adopted Nora in 2005, after she was rescued by an animal shelter from the streets of Camden, New Jersey.
The Birth of the Piano Cat
Although Alexander and Yow, who live in Center City, Philadelphia, already had five cats living with them at the time, Alexander told us that she was immediately drawn to Nora. She begged Yow to let her adopt the kitten, since it was love at first sight.
“So, we bring home this bossy cat and find out that she doesn’t really get along with our other cats,” recalls Alexander. “For the first 6 months that she was with us, it was like we had a basket of snakes in this house, like a rattlesnake. It was just all this hissing. It was very upsetting to me and I wondered if she was ever gonna fit in. I didn’t know what to do.”
Ultimately, she said, the cats just figured it out on their own. Nora ended up marking her territory in the living room, while her brothers and sisters stayed upstairs and played in the bedrooms. Alexander, who is a musician and a piano teacher, noticed that Nora was drawn to the piano in their living room almost immediately.
“We started to notice that she would get on top of the piano and sort of dance on it, moving along with her reflection,” she said. “She would see kids come over for piano lessons and play the piano and it seemed like she was even more drawn to it. She would hang out under the piano during their lessons. She was very involved with the piano from day one!”
Nora’s First Public Performance
It’s not everyday, however, that a cat goes from walking on piano keys to becoming an internet celebrity. So, how exactly did Alexander and Yow help Nora rise to stardom?
“One day, we were sitting up in our office, both on the computer, when we hear someone playing the piano downstairs,” said Alexander. “We both had the same reaction, turning to each other and saying ‘What in the world is going on?’ So, we go downstairs and she’s sitting at the piano, playing it! It seemed crazy and people have always asked us how we taught her to play, but we didn’t have to do anything. She just loves the piano.”
“She started playing all the time, and we would clap for her, which just made her play more. She loves the attention! She started playing everyday and my students would watch her play. They spread the word because other children in the neighborhood started to come over to watch her play, and it became clear to us that something amazing and unusual was happening,” Alexander continued. “One of our students told us we should take a video of Nora playing the piano and post it on YouTube. We had no idea what that even was at the time! But our student explained it to us, telling us it would be a great way to share the experience of Nora playing the piano with our family and friends, which we thought was really cool.”
Becoming a Global Sensation
With the help of Yow and some of her students, Alexander launched Nora’s YouTube page in November 2006, and within a few days, her video of Nora had been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
“We were sort of freaked out at first, thinking it was weird that people all over the world had access to this video of our little Nora, but we kept going,” Alexander recalled. “And soon enough we had over a million hits, and then we started getting all these phone calls from the news media. It was just unbelievable. We had camera crews here from Japan, from England, from here in the U.S. David Letterman invited her on the show, The Daily Show came to shoot with us, The Today Show. She became an answer in a New York Times crossword puzzle! She’s in the Guinness Book of World Records.”
Nora’s rise to fame not only led to television appearances, but also awarded her with the title of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Cat of the Year in 2009. Alexander acknowledged the fact that they never envisioned their cat becoming an internet celebrity. Aside from the media attention, Nora also had fans all over the world who wanted to connect with her, including some celebrities.
“One day our doorbell rang and a package showed up from Billy Joel. Yes, THE Billy Joel! There was a letter inside that said he was a big fan of Nora’s and sent along some music books for us as a gift. The piano man sent the piano cat a gift! It’s just crazy to me,” said Alexander.
Nora will be turning 16 this year and is still making new videos for her YouTube channel, which currently has over 19,000 subscribers. Although videos of cats doing funny things seem to be a dime a dozen these days, Nora deserves all the credit for leading the way and blazing a trail for other cats to share their talents with the world.