Fats Domino, rock & roll pioneer, died yesterday at age 89 in Louisiana. His death was announced today by Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, coroner’s office. Domino died of natural causes at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Domino’s best-known for his piano-based hits of the 1950s and early ’60s like “Blueberry Hill”, ”Ain’t That a Shame”, “Blue Monday”, “Walkin’ to New Orleans” and “I’m Walkin'”. Domino was born Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. in New Orleans and helped infuse that city’s barreling rhythms into the rock & roll mix.
Domino had his first pop mainstream smash in 1955 with “Ain’t It a Shame”, though as was so often the case then a watered-down version by a white singer – in this case, Pat Boone, who changed the title to “Ain’t That a Shame” – got more radio play.
Domino would go on to score nearly 40 Top 40 singles, and was one of the first 10 honorees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He remained a lifelong New Orleans resident – or thereabouts – surviving Hurricane Katrina but losing most of his memorabilia, gold and platinum records and pianos in the 2005 disaster.
Also lost was his National Medal of Arts, presented by President Bill Clinton. President George W. Bush personally delivered its replacement.
“You helped pave the way for new orleans piano players,” tweeted Harry Connick Jr. “see you on top of that blueberry hill in the sky.”
One of the more familiar rock & roll presences on television, the portly, gregarious Domino, invariably seated at a piano, appeared frequently on the musical and variety shows of the Golden Age era – programs hosted by Steve Allen, Perry Como, Ed Sullivan and, of course, American Bandstand. Many years later, his song “Blueberry Hill” would become a frequent punchline when sung by Ron Howard’s Richie.
Domino also performed in two wildly influential rock movies of 1956: Shake, Rattle & Rock! and The Girl Can’t Help It, films that spread the news of rock & roll throughout the country and abroad. The Beatles and countless other teens were entranced and called to arms, or at least called to the music.