Antonine Dominque "Fats" Domino Jr. was one of the pioneers of rock 'n roll music. He sold more than 65 million records. During his career, Domino had 35 records in the U.S.
Billboard Top 40, and five of his pre-1955 records sold more than a million copies, being certified gold. His
musical style was based on traditional rhythm and blues, accompanied by saxophones, bass, piano, electric guitar,
and drums. During his career, Domino had 35 records in the U.S. Billboard Top 40, and five of his pre-1955 records
sold more than a million copies, being certified gold. His musical style was based on traditional rhythm and blues,
accompanied by saxophones, bass, piano, electric guitar, and drums.
By age 14, Domino was performing in New Orleans bars. 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. Diamond nicknamed him "Fats", because Domino
reminded him of the renowned pianists Fats Waller and Fats Pichon, but also because of his large
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 "Junkers Blues"; the record had sold
a million copies by 1951. 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. In 2015, the song
would enter the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Domino crossed into the pop mainstream with "Ain't That a
Shame" (mislabeled as "Ain't It a Shame") which reached the Top Ten. This was the first of his records to
appear on the Billboard pop singles chart (on July 16, 1955), with the debut at number 14. A milder cover version
by Pat Boone reached number 1, having received wider radio airplay in an era of racial segregation. In 1955, Domino
was said to be earning $10,000 a week while touring, according to a report in the memoir of artist Chuck Berry.
Domino eventually had 37 Top 40 singles, but none made it to number 1 on the Pop chart.
His 1956 recording of "Blueberry Hill", a 1940 song by
Vincent Rose, Al Lewis and Larry Stock (which had previously been recorded by Gene Autry, Louis Armstrong and
others), reached number 2 on the Billboard Juke Box chart for two weeks and was number 1 on the R&B chart for
11 weeks. It was his biggest hit, selling more than 5 million copies worldwide in 1956 and 1957. The song was
subsequently recorded by Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Led Zeppelin. Some 32 years later, the song would enter
the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Domino had further hit singles between 1956 and 1959, including
"When My Dreamboat Comes Home" (Pop number 14), "I'm Walkin'" (Pop number 4), "Valley of
Tears" (Pop number 8), "It's You I Love" (Pop number 6), "Whole Lotta Loving" (Pop number
6), "I Want to Walk You Home" (Pop number 8), and "Be My Guest" (Pop number 8).
Domino appeared in two films released in 1956: Shake, Rattle
& Rock! and The Girl Can't Help It. On December 18, 1957, his hit recording of "The Big
Beat" was featured on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.
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. 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." In November 1957, Domino appeared on the Ed Sullivan TV program; no disturbance
accompanied this performance.
Domino moved to ABC-Paramount Records in 1963. The label dictated
that he record in Nashville, Tennessee, rather than New Orleans. He was assigned a new producer (Felton Jarvis) and
a new arranger (Bill Justis). Domino's long-term collaboration with the producer, arranger, and frequent co-writer
Dave Bartholomew, who oversaw virtually all of his Imperial hits, was seemingly at an end. Jarvis and Justis
changed the Domino sound somewhat, notably by adding the backing of a countrypolitan-style vocal chorus to most of
his new recordings. He released 11 singles for ABC-Paramount, several which hit the Top 100 but just once entering
the Top 40 ("Red Sails in the Sunset", 1963). By the end of 1964 the British Invasion had changed the
tastes of the record-buying public, and Domino's chart run was over.
Despite the lack of chart success, Domino continued to record
steadily until about 1970, leaving ABC-Paramount in mid-1965 and recording for Mercury Records, where he delivered
a live album and two singles. A studio album was planned but stalled with just four tracks recorded . Dave
Bartholomew's small Broadmoor label (reuniting with Bartholomew along the way), featured many contemporary Soul
infused sides but an album was released overseas in 1971 to fulfill his Reprise Records records contract. He
shifted to that label after Broadmoor and had a Top 100 single, a cover of the Beatles' "Lady Madonna".
Domino appeared in the Monkees' television special 33⅓
Revolutions per Monkee in 1969. He continued to be popular as a performer for several decades. He made a cameo
appearance in Clint Eastwood's movie Any Which Way You Can, filmed in 1979 and released in 1980 singing the country
song "Whiskey Heaven" which later became a minor hit. His life and career were showcased in Joe Lauro's
2015 documentary The Big Beat: Fats Domino and the Birth of Rock 'n' Roll.
n 1986 Domino was one of the first musicians to be inducted into
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987. Domino's last album
for a major label, "Christmas is a Special Day", was released in 1993.
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. He was awarded the
Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.
His last tour was in Europe, for three weeks in 1995. 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. In
the same year, he received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s Ray Charles Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of
Arts. Domino declined an invitation to perform at the White House.
In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 25 on its list
of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" in an essay written by Dr. John.
As Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans in August 2005, Domino
chose to stay at home with his family, partly because his wife, Rosemary, was in poor health. His house was in an
area that was heavily flooded.
Domino's office, June 2007
Domino was rumored to have died, and his home was vandalized when
someone spray-painted the message "RIP Fats. You will be missed". On September 1, the talent agent Al Embry
announced that he had not heard from Domino since before the hurricane struck. Later that day, CNN reported that
Domino had been rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. Until then, even family members had not heard from him since
before the storm. Embry confirmed that Domino and his family had been rescued. The family was then taken to a
shelter in Baton Rouge, after which they were picked up by JaMarcus Russell, the starting quarterback of the
Louisiana State University football team, and the boyfriend of Domino's granddaughter. He let the family stay in
his apartment. "We've lost everything," Domino said.
President George W. Bush made a personal visit and replaced the
National Medal of Arts that President Bill Clinton had previously awarded Domino. The gold records were replaced by
the RIAA and Capitol Records, which owned the Imperial Records catalog.
On January 12, 2007, Domino was honored with OffBeat magazine's
Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Best of the Beat Awards, held at the House of Blues in New Orleans. New
Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin declared the day "Fats Domino Day in New Orleans" and presented him with a signed
Domino returned to stage on May 19, 2007, at Tipitina's at New
Orleans, performing to a full house. This would be his last public performance. The concert was recorded for a 2008
TV presentation entitled Fats Domino: Walkin' Back to New Orleans. This was a fund-raising concert, featuring a
number of artists; Domino donated his fee to the cause. Later that year, a Vanguard record was released.
Domino died on October 24, 2017, at his home in Harvey, Louisiana,
at the age of 89, from natural causes, according to the coroner's office.