The rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Fats Domino has died. No cause of death has been reported yet, but the local CBS affiliate WWL reports that Domino died peacefully while surrounded by family. He was 89.
Domino was born Antoine Domino, Jr. in New Orleans, the eighth of nine children in a French Creole family. His first language was French. In 1947, a teenage Domino accepted an invitation from bandleader Billy Diamond to play piano in a local band called the Solid Senders. In 1949, he released his first solo single “The Fat Man,” which went onto sell one million copies. His style drew on New Orleans jazz and R&B, but it also fit in with the early rock ‘n’ roll wave, and Domino quickly became one of the greatest stars of that era.
Domino’s first top-10 hit came with 1955’s “Ain’t That A Shame”; Pat Boone soon had a #1 hit with a whitewashed cover of the same song. Domino continued to score hit singles throughout the ’50s, including “Blueberry Hill,” “I’m Walkin’,” “It’s You I Love,” and “Whole Lotta Lovin’.” He appeared in the movies Shake Rattle & Roll and The Girl Can’t Help It.
Domino kept recording through the ’60s, though his success declined. He moved onto styles like country and soul, and he had a minor hit with a cover “Lady Madonna,” a Beatles song that had been inspired by Domino himself. In the ’80s, Domino decided that he would never again leave New Orleans, even to accept an invitation to perform at the White House or to accept his induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. He mostly performed locally, though he did tour Europe in 1995. During Hurricane Katrina, Domino had to be evacuated, and his family’s home was destroyed. But he kept performing locally in New Orleans, and he made a cameo on HBO’s Treme in 2012.
Domino’s style was enormously influential, both on his contemporaries and on the generations that followed. Legend has it that ska developed in Jamaica because local musicians were attempting, and failing, to replicate the New Orleans rhythms that they heard on Domino’s songs on the radio. Giants like Elvis Presley and the Beatles admired him enormously. He was a hugely important creative voice during a hugely important time in the evolution of pop music. Watch a few videos of Domino at work below.