'The godfather of rock and roll:' music pioneer Fats Domino dead at age 89
Hits include Blueberry Hill, Ain't That a Shame and other rock 'n' roll standards
Fats Domino, the amiable rock 'n' roll pioneer whose steady, pounding piano and easy baritone helped change popular music while honouring the traditions of the Crescent City, has died. He was 89.
Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, coroner's office, said Domino died of natural causes early Tuesday.
In appearance, he was no matinee idol. He stood 5-foot, 5-inches and weighed more than 200 pounds, with a wide, boyish smile and a haircut as flat as an album cover.
But Domino sold more than 110 million records, with hits including Blueberry Hill, Ain't That a Shame — originally titled Ain't It A Shame— and other standards of rock 'n' roll.
RIP fats domino... you helped pave the way for new orleans piano players... see you on top of that blueberry hill in the sky ❤️🙏🏼❤️—@HarryConnickJR
"That innocence is there in his music ... people respond to that goodness." - Dr. John on Fats Domino.<br>RIP, Fats.<a href="https://t.co/99OCUgZNxt">https://t.co/99OCUgZNxt</a> <a href="https://t.co/FLSTMcJ7M0">pic.twitter.com/FLSTMcJ7M0</a>—@akadrjohn
He was one of the first 10 honourees named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Rolling Stone Record Guide likened him to Benjamin Franklin, the beloved old man of a revolutionary movement.
He added that artifacts, including original manuscripts of Walking to New Orleans, I'm Walkin' and Blueberry Hill were on display.
"Fats is the godfather of rock and roll," Harris said.
"On behalf of the people of New Orleans, I am eternally grateful for his life and legacy," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a news release Wednesday morning.
"Fats Domino added to New Orleans' standing in the world, and what people know and appreciate about New Orleans."
Domino's dynamic performance style and warm vocals drew crowds for five decades. One of his show-stopping stunts was playing the piano while standing, throwing his body against it with the beat of the music and bumping the grand piano across the stage.
Domino's 1956 version of Blueberry Hill was selected for the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry of historic sound recordings worthy of preservation.
The preservation board noted that Domino insisted on performing the song despite his producer's doubts, adding that Domino's "New Orleans roots are evident in the Creole inflected cadences that add richness and depth to the performance."
When asked if he got to meet <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheBeatles?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TheBeatles</a> when the Fab Four were in New Orleans, <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FatsDomino?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FatsDomino</a> replied, "No, they got to meet me." <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RIPFats?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RIPFats</a> <a href="https://t.co/Gg0g0PbJAC">pic.twitter.com/Gg0g0PbJAC</a>—@ZiaRecords
Domino — who inspired everyone from Elvis Presley to the Beatles, Little Richard to Bruce Springsteen — became a global star but stayed true to his hometown, where his fate was initially unknown after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. It turned out that he and his family were rescued by boat from his home, where he lost three pianos and dozens of gold and platinum records, along with other memorabilia.
Many wondered if he would ever return to the stage. Scheduled to perform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2006, he simply tipped his hat to thousands of cheering fans.
'Embodies everything good about New Orleans'
But in May 2007, he was back, performing at Tipitina's music club in New Orleans. Fans cheered — and some cried — as Domino played I'm Walkin', Ain't That a Shame, Shake, Rattle and Roll, Blueberry Hill and a host of other hits.
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That performance was a highlight during several rough years. After losing their home and almost all their belongings to the floods, his wife of more than 50 years, Rosemary, died in April 2008.
Domino moved to the New Orleans suburb of Harvey after the storm but would often visit his publishing house, an extension of his old home in the Lower 9th Ward, inspiring many with his determination to stay in the city he loved.
"Fats embodies everything good about New Orleans," his friend David Lind said in a 2008 interview. "He's warm, fun-loving, spiritual, creative and humble. You don't get more New Orleans than that."
The son of a violin player, Antoine Domino Jr. was born on Feb. 26, 1928, to a family that grew to include nine children. As a youth, he taught himself popular piano styles — ragtime, blues and boogie-woogie — after his cousin left an old upright in the house. Fats Waller and Albert Ammons were early influences.
He quit school at age 14, and worked days in a factory while playing and singing in local juke joints at night. In 1949, Domino was playing at the Hideaway Club for $3 US a week when he was signed by Imperial record company.
He recorded his first song, The Fat Man, in the back of a tiny French Quarter recording studio.
"They call me the Fat Man, because I weigh 200 pounds," he sang.
"All the girls, they love me, 'cause I know my way around."
In 1955, he broke into the white pop charts with Ain't It a Shame — but actually sang the lyrics as "ain't that a shame." The song was covered blandly by Pat Boone as Ain't That a Shame and rocked out years later by Cheap Trick.
Domino enjoyed a parade of successes through the early 1960s, including Be My Guest and I'm Ready. Another hit, I'm Walkin', became the debut single for Ricky Nelson.
"Elvis Presley often referred to Fats Domino as 'the real king of rock ’n’ roll.'" - Alan Light, <a href="https://twitter.com/nytimes?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nytimes</a>, 2016. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ripfatsdomino?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ripfatsdomino</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/fatsdomino?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#fatsdomino</a> <a href="https://t.co/uVFvGhjRn2">pic.twitter.com/uVFvGhjRn2</a>—@djsoulsister
'I refused to change'
Domino appeared in the rock 'n' roll film The Girl Can't Help It and was among the first black performers to be featured in popular music shows, starring with Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. He also helped bridge rock 'n' roll and other styles — even country/western, recording Hank Williams' Jambalaya and Bobby Charles' Walkin' to New Orleans.
Words fail me in this moment of deep heartache and sadness. We have lost a legend. One of my heroes. New Orleans’ Fats Domino is dead. <a href="https://t.co/HZNbQRI889">pic.twitter.com/HZNbQRI889</a>—@WendellPierce
Like many of his peers, Domino's popularity tapered off in the 1960s as British and psychedelic rock held sway.
Domino told Ebony magazine that he stopped recording because companies wanted him to update his style.
"I refused to change," he said. "I had to stick to my own style that I've always used or it just wouldn't be me."
Antoine and Rosemary Domino raised eight children in the same ramshackle neighborhood where he grew up, but they did it in style — in a white mansion, trimmed in pink, yellow and lavender. The front double doors opened into an atrium with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and ivory dominos set in a white marble floor.
In 1988, all of New Orleans seemed to be talking about him after he reportedly paid in cash for two Cadillacs and a $130,000 US Rolls-Royce. When the salesman asked if he wanted to call his bank about financing, Domino smiled and said, "I am the bank."
RIP Fats Domino, one pf the last of the Founding Fathers. “Come on pretty baby, we’re gonna rock, gonna roll, until the early light.”—@StephenKing
In 1998, he became the first purely rock 'n' roll musician to be awarded the National Medal for the Arts. But he cited his age and didn't make the trip to the White House to get the medal from U.S. President Bill Clinton.
That was typical. Aside from rare appearances in New Orleans, he dodged the spotlight in his later years, refusing to appear in public or even to give interviews.