Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr., the New Orleans piano master credited with kickstarting rock n’ roll and inspiring other greats like Elvis Presley, died yesterday at his daughter’s home in Harvey, La.
He was 89 years old.
With his distinctive vocals and rolling, crashing piano playing, Domino picked up his nickname and fan base while playing for the Solid Senders. New Orleans bandleader Billy Diamond said Domino reminded him of pianists Fats Waller and Fats Pichon, and the name stuck.
Domino was the first rock n’ roll musician to have a record hit one million sales with his first album, “The Fat Man.” According to NPR he outsold Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly combined, with only Presley moving more records.
Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame” moved him onto the 1955 pop charts, where it reached into the Top Ten. His biggest hit was the 1956 recording of “Blueberry Hill” which hit the top of the R&B charts and stayed there for 11 weeks, while reaching number two on the Top 40.
One of the first R&B artists to reach widespread popularity among white crowds, Domino toured until the 80’s when he announced he would no longer leave New Orleans – he claimed he couldn’t find good food anywhere else.
Refusing invitations to perform at his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as well as the White House, Domino would eventually be forced out by Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed his office and home in the Lower Ninth Ward. He was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter and evacuated to Baton Rouge, later moving to Harvey while work was underway to repair his home and office.
Though his home was later rebuilt by the Tipitina’s Foundation, he never moved back. Filmmaker Joe Lauro, who profiled Domino last year, told Rolling Stone that after Katrina things just weren’t the same.
“Because everyone was gone. His whole way of life ended,” Lauro said. “It’s a displacement that you don’t hear a lot about as a result of that storm. You hear about people losing their houses or dying or whatever, but you get an old person used to having everyone around their whole life, well, it’s gone. ”
The Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office told NPR News that Domino died from natural causes.