Fats Domino, the legend of boogie-woogie piano and one of the fathers of rock and roll, has passed away at age 89. Without Fats Domino, there may have been no Beatles or the genre of ska. A huge number of artists were influenced by this legend of rock and roll, from Elvis Presley to Robert Plant. Antoine Dominique Domino Jr. was born and raised in New Orleans. He learned how to play the piano from his jazz guitarist brother-in-law. Those lessons saw him performing in bars as early as age 14. Bandleader Billy Diamond heard him play and invited him to join his band. Diamond also gave Domino the nickname by which he was known ever since.
In 1949, Domino was signed to Imperial Records and began churning out hits. His album The Fat Man sold over one million copies before 1951. That was the first in a long line of successes. Before 1955, five of his records passed that one million sold mark. He had 35 records in the US Billboard Top 40. He had 40 songs in the top 10 on the R&B chart and 11 in the top 10 on the Pop chart. Fats remained extremely popular as a performer through the 70s and continued performing until the early 90s.
Domino’s successes are all the more remarkable given that he was a black man in the 50s and 60s at the height of his success. Rick Coleman, Domino’s biographer, wrote about race, describing how despite being one of the most popular bands in the country, Domino and his bandmates faced frequent racial segregation and discrimination. He went on to talk about the early experience of integration, saying “People don’t really credit rock ‘n’ roll for integrating America, but it really did.” Integration was likely a major cause of the four major riots that broke out at Domino’s concerts. His song “Ain’t That a Shame” was one of his first his to break through with white audiences.
In 1986, Domino was one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Rolling Stone had him at #25 on their “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list. In 1998, Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts. In 2016, he was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame. There is no question that his influence was massive.
Fats Domino died at home in Harvey, Louisiana from natural causes. Rosemary Domino, his wife of 61 years, died in 2008. They had eight children.