Called ‘the real King of Rock and Roll’ by none other than Elvis Presley, the late Fats Domino is also one of the pioneers of the musical genre that’s captured world attention since the 1960s.
Nonetheless, the late Antoine Dominique ‘Fats Domino’ Jr., who died last Tuesday, October 24th, aged 89, may not be nearly as well known as the other American pop musicians who died in 2017, artists like Chuck Berry, Don Williams and Tom Petty.
But then, Fats Domino’s most fertile artistic years were the 1950s. That was when the influential pianist and singer-songwriter crossed over from being mainly a rhythm and blues artist and entering the pop music mainstream with his 1955 hit single, ‘Ain’t that a Shame.’
Fats actually sold his first million records in 1951 for his song ‘The Fat Man’ which he co-wrote with his producer Dave Bartholomew of Imperial Records. And his first mega-hit, ‘Blueberry Hill’ sold more than five million copies between 1956 and ’57. It also hit number one of Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart, later to be sung by everyone from Elvis, and Little Richard to Led Zeppelin.
But another reason Fats Domino may not be as renowned as other African American musicians is because he was said to be exceedingly shy and humble. He may have toured Europe twice, been on the road performing 340 days out of 365 during his peak years, and called the ‘King of Rock and roll’ by Ebony magazine as far back as 1957 (a decade before Elvis). But Fats was always a home boy.
Born February 28, 1928 in New Orleans to Creole parents, Fats returned to his old neighborhood of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward even after he became a rock ‘n’ roll star. And when Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home in 2005, he lived out his remaining days in Harvey, Louisiana (where he died of natural causes), which is a suburb of New Orleans.
Fats had to drop out of school in Standard 4, but he learned to play piano soon thereafter. He joined the boogie woogie band, The Solid Senders in 1947 and only stopped performing in 2007. His last performance was recorded for the 2008 TV fund-raiser show, ‘Fats Domino: Walkin’ Back to New Orleans.’
Since then, Fats was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2016 and received countless accolades both from Presidents and pop musicians.
Fats’ life was showcased in Joe Lauro’s 2015 documentary, ‘The Big Beat: Fats Domino and the Birth of Rock and Roll.’ His biography was written by Rich Coleman who says Fats’ performances paved the way for racial desegregation since whites and blacks mingled during most of his live performance.