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


(RNN) – Pianist and singer Fats Domino played a brand of New Orleans rhythm and blues that transformed into rock ‘n’ roll and appealed to black and white audiences.

The performer has died at the age of 89, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. Chief Investigator Mark Bone, with the Jefferson Parish, LA, Coroner’s Office, said Domino died Tuesday.

In the 1950s, his concerts resulted in the integration of many venues as black and white fans gathered, and the mixing of the races at the shows sometimes ended in riots.

“He had four major riots at his shows partly because of integration, but also the fact they had alcohol at these shows,” PBS.org quoted Domino biographer Rick Coleman as saying. “So they were mixing alcohol, plus dancing, plus the races together for the first time in a lot of these places.”

Domino, an African American, became the face of popular music at the height of segregation “in part because he came across as pleasant and tame,” NOLA.com said.

His first hit, The Fat Man (1949), is sometimes cited by music historians as one of the first rock ‘n’ roll records because of its “brash young street corner attitude, an exuberant vocal veering into nonsense syllables and a supremely throbbing backbeat.”

In early 1950, the song peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s R&B chart, pushed there partly by Domino’s rolling piano and “wah-wah” vocalizing mimicking a horn, and sold more than a million copies.

Asked whether his song was the first rock and roll song, A Prairie Home Companion said, “Fats reportedly answered: ‘I wouldn’t want to say that I started it, but I don’t remember anyone else before me playing that kind of stuff.”

Also among his 35 Top 40 hits are Ain’t That a Shame (1955), Blueberry Hill (1956) and I’m Walkin’ (1957).

In 1957, he had 11 hits on Billboard’s pop chart. Only one 1950s-era rocker sold more records than Domino’s 65 million, Elvis Presley, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Domino’s number of hit records exceeded the combined total of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly.

Domino’s songs made Billboard’s pop chart 63 times and the R&B chart 59 times. He sold more than 110 million records in his career.

As rock evolved away from his hits “about breakup, courtships, and homesickness,” according to WSJ.com, and became “a politically charged, drug-fueled genre, Mr. Domino’s brand of storytelling declined in relevance.”

Some top artists of the 1960s and 1970s acknowledged the boogie-woogie piano playing Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee as an important influence on their music. Beatles co-founder John Lennon and Paul McCartney recorded Domino songs.

He appeared in several films, including Shake, Rattle, and Roll (1956) , where he sang three of his hits, The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), Jamboree! (1957) and The Big Beat (1958).

Domino was born Antoine Domino Jr. on Feb. 26, 1928, in New Orleans, LA, into a large, musical family whose first language was French. At seven years old, he learned the rudiments of piano from a brother-in-law, and by 10 years old he was playing piano for pennies in nightclubs.

After quitting school at age 14, he worked in a bedspring factory during the day and performed in bars at night. In 1949, he and local band leader Dave Bartholomew, also a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, became musical partners, a relationship that lasted until 1960 and resulted in most of Domino’s 68 Billboard Top 100 hits.

In August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Domino was rescued from his flooded house in the Ninth Ward, where he lived with his wife, Rosemary, who died in 2008. They had eight children.

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