Antoine Dominique "Fats" Domino Jr. (born February 26, 1928) is an American rhythm and blues and rock and roll pianist and singer-songwriter. Domino released five gold (million-copy-selling) records before 1955. Domino also had 35 Top 40 American hits and has a music style based on traditional rhythm and blues ensembles of bass, piano, electric guitar, drums, and saxophone.
The most popular exponent of the classic New Orleans R&B sound, Fats Domino sold more records than any other black rock & roll star of the 1950s. His relaxed, lolling boogie-woogie piano style and easygoing, warm vocals anchored a long series of national hits from the mid-'50s to the early '60s. Through it all, his basic approach rarely changed. He may not have been one of early rock's most charismatic, innovative, or threatening figures, but he was certainly one of its most consistent.
Domino was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Domino is French Creole and Creole was his first language. Domino was delivered at home by his midwife grandmother. Like most families in the Lower Ninth Ward, Domino's family were new arrivals from Vacherie, Louisiana.
His father was a well-known violinist, and Domino was inspired to play himself. He eventually learned from his uncle, jazz guitarist Harrison Verrett.
Domino's first single, "The Fat Man" (1949), is one of the dozens of tracks that have been consistently singled out as a candidate for the first rock & roll record. As far as Fats was concerned, he was just playing what he'd already been doing in New Orleans for years, and would continue to play and sing in pretty much the same fashion even after his music was dubbed "rock & roll."
The record made number two on the R&B charts, and sold a million copies. Just as important, it established a vital partnership between Fats and Imperial A&R man Dave Bartholomew. Bartholomew, himself a trumpeter, would produce Domino's big hits, co-writing many of them with Fats. He would also usually employ New Orleans session greats like Alvin Tyler on sax and Earl Palmer on drums -- musicians who were vital in establishing New Orleans R&B as a distinct entity, playing on many other local recordings as well (including hits made in New Orleans by Georgia native Little Richard).
Domino didn't cross over into the pop charts in a big way until 1955, when "Ain't That a Shame" made the Top Ten. Pat Boone's cover of the song stole some of Fats' thunder, going all the way to number one (Boone was also bowdlerizing Little Richard's early singles for pop hits during this time). Domino's long-range prospects weren't damaged, however; between 1955 and 1963, he racked up an astonishing 35 Top 40 singles. "Blueberry Hill" (1956) was probably his best (and best-remembered) single; "Walking to New Orleans," "Whole Lotta Loving," "I'm Walking," "Blue Monday," and "I'm in Love Again" were also huge successes.
After Fats left Imperial for ABC-Paramount in 1963, he would only enter the Top 40 one more time. The surprise was not that Fats fell out of fashion, but that he'd maintained his popularity so long while the essentials of his style remained unchanged. This was during an era, remember, when most of rock's biggest stars had their careers derailed by death or scandal, or were made to soften up their sound for mainstream consumption.
Although an active performer in the ensuing decades, his career as an important artist was essentially over in the mid-'60s. He did stir up a bit of attention in 1968 when he covered the Beatles' "Lady Madonna" single, which had been an obvious homage to Fats' style.
Domino was the first artist to be announced as scheduled to perform at the 2006 Jazz & Heritage Festival. However, he was too ill to perform when scheduled and was only able to offer the audience an on-stage greeting. Domino also released an album Alive and Kickin' in early 2006 to benefit the Tipitina's Foundation, which supports indigent local musicians. The title song was recorded after Katrina, but most of the cuts were from unreleased sessions in the 1990s.
On January 12, 2007, Domino was honored with OffBeat magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Best of the Beat Awards held at House of Blues in New Orleans. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin declared the day "Fats Domino Day in New Orleans" and presented Fats with a signed declaration. OffBeat publisher Jan Ramsey and WWL-TV's Eric Paulsen presented Fats with the Lifetime Achievement Award. An all-star musical tribute followed with an introduction by the legendary producer Cosimo Matassa. The Lil' Band O' Gold rhythm section, Warren Storm, Kenny Bill Stinson, David Egan and C. C. Adcock, not only anchored the band, but each contributed lead vocals, swamp pop legend Warren Storm leading off with "Let the Four Winds Blow" and "The Prisoner Song," which he proudly introduced by saying, "Fats Domino recorded this in 1958.. and so did I." The horn section included Lil' Band O' Gold's Dickie Landry, the Iguanas' Derek Huston, and long-time Domino horn men Roger Lewis, Elliot "Stackman" Callier and Herb Hardesty. They were joined by Jon Cleary (who also played guitar in the rhythm section), Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, Irma Thomas, George Porter, Jr. (who, naturally, came up with a funky arrangement for "You Keep On Knocking"), Art Neville, Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, who wrote and debuted a song in tribute of Domino for the occasion. Though Domino did not perform, those near him recall him playing air piano and singing along to his own songs.
Domino returned to stage on May 19, 2007, at Tipitina's at New Orleans, performing to a full house. A foundation has been formed and a show is being planned for Domino and the restoration of his home, where he intends to return someday. "I like it down there" he said in a February 2006 CBS News interview.
In September 2007, Domino was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. He has also been inducted into the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame in Ferriday.
In May 2009, Domino made an unexpected appearance in the audience for The Domino Effect, a namesake concert featuring Little Richard and other artists, aimed at raising funds to help rebuild schools and playgrounds damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
In October 2012, Domino was featured in season 3 of the television series Treme, playing himself.