Fats Domino

Instrument

Antoine Dominique Domino Jr. (February 26, 1928 – October 24, 2017), known as Fats Domino, was an American pianist and singer-songwriter. One of the pioneers of rock and roll music, Domino sold more than 65 million records.[2]

Between 1955 and 1960, he had eleven Top 10 US pop hits.[3] By 1955 five of his records had sold more than a million copies, being certified gold.[4] The Associated Press estimates that during his career, the artist "sold more than 110 million records[5] and the Grammy organization states that Domino landed 37 songs in the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 throughout his career, including 11 that peaked inside the Top 10".[6]

His humility and shyness may be one reason his contribution to the genre has been overlooked.[7] The significance of his work was great however; Elvis Presley declared Domino to be "the real king of rock ‘n’ roll" and once announced that Domino "was a huge influence on me when I started out".[8][9]

Four of Domino's records were named to the Grammy Hall of Fame for their significance: "Blueberry Hill", "Ain't That A Shame", "Walking to New Orleans" and "The Fat Man".[10] "The Fat Man" "is cited by some historians as the first rock and roll single and the first to sell more than 1 million copies".

Antoine Domino Jr. was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, the youngest of eight children born to Antoine Caliste Domino (1879–1964) and Marie-Donatille Gros (1886–1971). The Domino family was of French Creole background, and Louisiana Creole was his first language.[11] Like most such families, the Dominos were Catholic.[12]

Antoine was born at home with the assistance of his grandmother, a midwife. His name was initially misspelled as Anthony on his birth certificate.[13] His family had recently arrived in the Lower Ninth Ward from Vacherie, Louisiana.[14] His father was a part-time violin player who worked at a racetrack.[15][16]

He attended Howard University, leaving to start work as a helper to an ice delivery man.[17] Domino learned to play the piano in about 1938 from his brother-in-law,[18] the jazz guitarist Harrison Verrett.

By age 14, Domino was performing in New Orleans bars.[3][20] In 1947, Billy Diamond, a New Orleans bandleader, accepted an invitation to hear the young pianist perform at a backyard barbecue. Domino played well enough that Diamond asked him to join his band, the Solid Senders, at the Hideaway Club in New Orleans, where he would earn $3 a week playing the piano.[16] Diamond nicknamed him "Fats", because Domino reminded him of the renowned pianists Fats Waller and Fats Pichon, but also because of his large appetite.

Domino was signed to the Imperial Records label in 1949 by owner Lew Chudd, to be paid royalties based on sales instead of a fee for each song. He and producer Dave Bartholomew wrote "The Fat Man", a toned down version of a song about drug addicts called "Junker Blues"; the record had sold a million copies by 1951.[17] Featuring a rolling piano and Domino vocalizing "wah-wah" over a strong backbeat, "The Fat Man" is widely considered the first rock-and-roll record to achieve this level of sales.[22][23] In 2015, the song would enter the Grammy Hall of Fame.

On November 2, 1956, a riot broke out at a Domino concert in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The police used tear gas to break up the unruly crowd. Domino jumped out a window to avoid the melee; he and two members of his band were slightly injured.[39] During his career, four major riots occurred at his concerts, "partly because of integration", according to his biographer Rick Coleman. "But also the fact they had alcohol at these shows. So they were mixing alcohol, plus dancing, plus the races together for the first time in a lot of these places."[40] In November 1957, Domino appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show; no disturbance accompanied this performance.

In 1986, Domino was one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[50][17] He also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.[2] Domino's last album for a major label, Christmas Is a Special Day, was released in 1993.[51]

Domino lived in a mansion in a predominantly working-class neighborhood in the Lower Ninth Ward, where he was a familiar sight in his bright pink Cadillac automobile. He made yearly appearances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and other local events.

His last tour was in Europe, for three weeks in 1995.[52] After being ill while on tour, Domino decided he would no longer leave the New Orleans area, having a comfortable income from royalty payments and a dislike of touring and claiming he could not get any food that he liked anywhere else.[53] In the same year, he received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Ray Charles Lifetime Achievement Award.[18]

In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts.[54][55] Domino declined an invitation to perform at the White House.