*Legendary New Orleans musician and singer Fats Domino, best-known for songs like “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t That a Shame” and “Walkin’ To New Orleans,” has died, his daughter revealed Wednesday. He was 89.
WWL-TV anchor Eric Paulson received word from the family early Wednesday morning and delivered the news on air, saying Domino was surrounded by family and friends and died peacefully, according to the singer’s daughter.
Domino was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987. Rolling Stone magazine listed him at #25 in the list of “Greatest Recording Artists of All Time.”
Born Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. on February 26, 1928, the artist learned to play the piano from his brother-in-law, the jazz guitarist Harrison Verrett. In the summer of 1947, New Orleans bandleader Billy Diamond 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. Diamond nicknamed him “Fats”, because Domino reminded him of the renowned pianists Fats Waller and Fats Pichon.
Domino attracted national attention with his first recording, “The Fat Man”, made in late 1949 for Imperial Records, an early rock-and-roll record featuring a rolling piano and Domino vocalizing “wah-wah” over a strong backbeat. “The Fat Man” sold one million copies by 1953; it is widely considered the first rock-and-roll record to achieve this feat.
Domino crossed into the pop mainstream with “Ain’t That a Shame” (1955), which reached the Top Ten. Domino eventually had 37 Top 40 singles. 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 in the Top 40 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. 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).
Even after his success, he continued to live in his old neighborhood. His mansion in a predominantly working-class neighborhood in the Lower Ninth Ward was roomy enough for his 13 children, but he still preferred to sleep in a hammock outside. He was a familiar sight in his bright pink Cadillac automobile.
In the 1980s, Domino decided he would no longer leave New Orleans, having a comfortable income from royalties and a dislike of touring and claiming he could not get any food that he liked anywhere else. His induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and an invitation to perform at the White House failed to persuade him to make an exception to this policy.
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.
Someone thought Domino was dead and spray-painted a message on his home, “RIP Fats. You will be missed”, which was shown in news photos. 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. The Washington Post reported that on September 2, they had left Russell’s apartment after sleeping three nights on the couch. “We’ve lost everything,” Domino said, according to the Post.
By January 2006, work to gut and repair Domino’s home and office had begun (see Reconstruction of New Orleans). In the meantime, the Domino family resided in Harvey, Louisiana.
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 catalogue.