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Fats Domino, New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, dies at 89

  • FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2008 file photo, Fats Domino waves to fans before a ceremony re-presenting two Grammy awards to replace the ones that he lost from Hurricane Katrina's flooding in New Orleans. Domino, the amiable rock 'n' roll pioneer whose steady, pounding piano and easy baritone helped change popular music even as it honored the grand, good-humored tradition of the Crescent City, has died. He was 89. Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, coroner's office, said Domino died Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Cheryl Gerber) Cheryl Gerber

  • FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2007 file photo, music legend Fats Domino performs on the NBC "Today" television show in New York. Domino, the amiable rock 'n' roll pioneer whose steady, pounding piano and easy baritone helped change popular music even as it honored the grand, good-humored tradition of the Crescent City, has died. He was 89. Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, coroner's office, said Domino died Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File) RICHARD DREW

  • FILE - In this May 30, 2009 file photo, Fats Domino visits with Little Richard in a dressing room after Richards' performance at The Domino Effect, a tribute concert for Domino, at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans. Domino, the amiable rock 'n' roll pioneer whose steady, pounding piano and easy baritone helped change popular music even as it honored the grand, good-humored tradition of the Crescent City, has died. He was 89. Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, coroner's office, said Domino died Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File) Patrick Semansky

  • Fats Domino AP file

  • FILE - In this April 24, 2003 file photo, Fats Domino performs on the opening day of the 34th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans. Domino, the amiable rock 'n' roll pioneer whose steady, pounding piano and easy baritone helped change popular music even as it honored the grand, good-humored tradition of the Crescent City, has died. He was 89. Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, coroner's office, said Domino died Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Douglas Mason, File) DOUGLAS MASON

  • FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2007 file photo, music legend Fats Domino performs on the NBC "Today" television show in New York. Domino, the amiable rock 'n' roll pioneer whose steady, pounding piano and easy baritone helped change popular music even as it honored the grand, good-humored tradition of the Crescent City, has died. He was 89. Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, coroner's office, said Domino died Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) RICHARD DREW



Associated Press
Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Fats Domino, the amiable rock ‘n’ roll pioneer whose steady, pounding piano and easy baritone helped change popular music while honoring the traditions of the Crescent City, has died. He was 89.

Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish, La., coroner’s office, said Domino died of natural causes early Tuesday.

In appearance, he was no matinee idol. He stood 5-foot-5 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.

He was one of the first 10 honorees 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.

“We’ve lowered the flag and we’re playing his music all day,” said Greg Harris, CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“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.”

“I can’t wrap my arms around him being gone,” said Quint Davis, producer of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and a decades-long friend of Domino. “There are only two people from New Orleans, of New Orleans, that have changed the music of the world, and that’s Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino. Louis brought jazz in his own personal way from New Orleans to a world that really didn’t know it, and Fats was right there with Elvis and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and brought that to the world.”

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.

His 1956 version of “Blueberry Hill” was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry of historic sound recordings worthy of preservation.

Domino 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.

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 It a Shame,” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”

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 often visited 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 Feb. 26, 1928, one of nine children. As a youth, he taught himself popular piano styles – ragtime, blues and boogie-woogie.

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 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.

In 1955, he broke into the white pop charts with “Ain’t it a Shame,” covered blandly by Pat Boone as “Ain’t That a Shame” and rocked out decades later under that title by Cheap Trick and others. Domino enjoyed a parade of successes through the early 1960s.

Domino appeared in the rock ‘n’ roll film The Girl Can’t Help It and was among the first black performers featured in popular music shows, starring with Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. He also helped bridge rock ‘n’ roll and other styles.

Like many of his peers, Domino’s popularity tapered off in the 1960s as British and psychedelic rock held sway.

“I refused to change,” he told Ebony magazine. “I had to stick to my own style that I’ve always used or it just wouldn’t be me.”