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Antoine "Fats" Domino, Jr. (born February 26, 1928) is a French Creole pianist and singer-songwriter. Five of his records released before 1955 sold over a million copies and were certified as gold records, and he had 35 records in the U.S. Top 40. His musical style is based on traditional rhythm and blues, accompanied by saxophones, bass, piano, electric guitar and drums.
Domino was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Domino family was of French Creole background; Louisiana Creole French was his first language. Antoine was born at home, with the assistance of his grandmother, a midwife. Like most families in the Lower Ninth Ward, his were new arrivals, from Vacherie, Louisiana. His father was a well-known violinist.
Domino learned to play the piano from his brother-in-law, the jazz guitarist Harrison Verrett.
Even after his success he continued to live in his old neighborhood. His large home was roomy enough for his 13 children, but he still preferred to sleep in a hammock outside.
Early career (1947–1948)
In the summer of 1947, Billy Diamond, a New Orleans bandleader, accepted an invitation to hear the young pianist perform at a backyard barbecue. Domino played well enough that Diamond asked him to join his band, the Solid Senders, at the Hideaway Club, in New Orleans. Diamond nicknamed him "Fats", because Domino reminded him of the renowned pianists Fats Waller and Fats Pichon.
Imperial Records era (1949–1962)
Domino attracted national attention with his first recording, "The Fat Man", made in late 1949 for Imperial Records, an early rock-and-roll record featuring a rolling piano and Domino vocalizing "wah-wah" over a strong backbeat. "The Fat Man" sold one million copies by 1953. Domino released a series of hit songs with the producer Dave Bartholomew (also the co-writer of many of the songs), saxophonists Herbert Hardesty and Alvin "Red" Tyler, bassist Frank Fields, and drummers Earl Palmer and Smokey Johnson. Other notable and long-standing musicians in Domino's band were the saxophonists Reggie Houston, Lee Allen, and Fred Kemp, Domino's trusted bandleader. Domino crossed into the pop mainstream with "Ain't That a Shame" (1955), which reached the Top Ten, though Pat Boone characteristically hit number 1 with a milder cover version of the song, which received wider radio airplay in a racially segregated era. Domino eventually had 37 Top 40 singles.
Domino's debut album, Carry On Rockin, containing several of his hits and tracks that had not yet been released as singles, was issued under the Imperial imprint (catalogue number 9009) in November 1955 and was reissued as Rock and Rollin' with Fats Domino in 1956.  The reissue reached number 17 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart.
His 1956 recording of "Blueberry Hill", a 1940 song by Vincent Rose, Al Lewis and Larry Stock (which had previously been recorded by Gene Autry, Louis Armstrong and others), reached number 2 in the Top 40 and was number 1 on the R&B chart for 11 weeks. It was his biggest hit. "Blueberry Hill" sold more than 5 million copies worldwide in 1956 and 1957. Domino had further hit singles between 1956 and 1959, including "When My Dreamboat Comes Home" (Pop number 14), "I'm Walkin'" (Pop number 4), "Valley of Tears" (Pop number 8), "It's You I Love" (Pop number 6), "Whole Lotta Loving" (Pop number 6), "I Want to Walk You Home" (Pop number 8), and "Be My Guest" (Pop number 8).
Domino appeared in two films released in 1956: Shake, Rattle & Rock! and The Girl Can't Help It. On December 18, 1957, his hit recording of "The Big Beat" was featured on Dick Clark's television program, American Bandstand.
On November 2, 1956, a riot broke out at Domino's show in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The police resorted to using tear gas to break up the unruly crowd. Domino jumped out a window to avoid the melee; he and two members of his band were slightly injured.
Domino had a steady series of hits for Imperial through early 1962, including "Walkin' to New Orleans" (1960, Pop number 6), co-written by Bobby Charles, and "My Girl Josephine" (Pop number 14) in the same year.
Imperial Records was sold in early 1963, and Domino left the label: "I stuck with them until they sold out," he said in 1979. In all, Domino recorded over 60 singles for Imperial, placing 40 songs in the top 10 on the R&B chart and 11 in the top 10 on the Pop chart. Twenty-two of Domino's Imperial singles were double-sided hits.
Post-Imperial recording career (1963–1970s)
Domino moved to ABC-Paramount Records in 1963. The label dictated that he record in Nashville rather than New Orleans. He was assigned a new producer (Felton Jarvis) and a new arranger (Bill Justis). Domino's long-term collaboration with the producer, arranger, and frequent co-writer Dave Bartholomew, who oversaw virtually all of his Imperial hits, was seemingly at an end.
Jarvis and Justis changed the Domino sound somewhat, notably by adding the backing of a countrypolitan-style vocal chorus to most of his new recordings. Perhaps as a result of this tinkering with an established formula, Domino's chart career was drastically curtailed. He released 11 singles for ABC-Paramount but had only one Top 40 entry ("Red Sails in the Sunset", 1963). By the end of 1964 the British Invasion had changed the tastes of the record-buying public, and Domino's chart run was over.
Despite the lack of chart success, Domino continued to record steadily until about 1970, leaving ABC-Paramount in mid-1965 and recording for Mercury, Dave Bartholomew's small Broadmoor label (reuniting with Bartholomew along the way), and Reprise. His final Top 100 chart single was on Reprise, a cover of the Beatles' "Lady Madonna", which peaked at number 100 in 1968. Domino appeared in the Monkees' television special 33⅓ Revolutions per Monkee in 1969. He also continued as a popular live act for several decades. He made a cameo appearance in the movie Any Which Way You Can, filmed in 1979 and released in 1980, which resulted in a Country chart hit, "Whiskey Heaven".
Later career (1980s–2005)
In the 1980s, Domino decided he would no longer leave New Orleans, having a comfortable income from royalties and a dislike for touring and claiming he could not get any food that he liked anywhere else. His induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and an invitation to perform at the White House failed to persuade him to make an exception to this policy.
Domino lived in a mansion in a predominantly working-class neighborhood in the Lower Ninth Ward, where he was a familiar sight in his bright pink Cadillac automobile. He makes yearly appearances at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and other local events. He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987. His last tour was in Europe, for three weeks in 1995. In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 25 on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".
By the end of his career, Domino was credited with more charted rock hits than any other classic rock artist except Elvis Presley.
Domino and Hurricane Katrina
As Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans in August 2005, Domino chose to stay at home with his family, partly because his wife, Rosemary, was in poor health. His house was in an area that was heavily flooded.
Someone thought Domino was dead and spray-painted a message on his home, "RIP Fats. You will be missed", which was shown in news photos. On September 1, talent agent Al Embry announced that he had not heard from the musician since before the hurricane had struck.
Later that day, CNN reported that Domino had been rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. Prior to this, even family members had not heard from him since before the storm. Embry confirmed that Domino and his family had been rescued. The Domino family was then taken to a shelter in Baton Rouge, after which they were picked up by JaMarcus Russell, the starting quarterback of the Louisiana State University football team, and the boyfriend of Domino's granddaughter. He let the family stay in his apartment. The Washington Post reported that on September 2, they had left Russell's apartment after sleeping three nights on the couch. "We've lost everything," Domino said, according to the Post.
By January 2006, work to gut and repair Domino's home and office had begun (see Reconstruction of New Orleans). In the meantime, the Domino family resided in Harvey, Louisiana.
President George W. Bush made a personal visit and replaced the National Medal of Arts that President Bill Clinton had previously awarded Domino. The gold records were replaced by the RIAA and Capitol Records, which owned the Imperial Records catalogue.
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. He released an album, Alive and Kickin', in early 2006 to benefit Tipitina's Foundation, which supports indigent local musicians. The cuts were from unreleased sessions from 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 the House of Blues in New Orleans. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin declared the day "Fats Domino Day in New Orleans" and presented him with a signed declaration. OffBeat publisher Jan Ramsey and WWL-TV's Eric Paulsen presented Domino 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, anchored the band, and 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 provided 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 miming playing the 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 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 three of the television series Treme, playing himself.
Domino was one of the biggest stars of rock and roll in the 1950s and one of the first R&B artists to gain popularity with white audiences. His biographer Rick Coleman argues that Domino's records and tours with rock-and-roll shows in that decade, bringing together black and white youths in a shared appreciation of his music, was a factor in the breakdown of racial segregation in the United States.
Domino was also an important influence on the music of the 1960s and 1970s and was acknowledged as such by some of the top artists of that era. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney recorded Domino songs. McCartney reportedly wrote the Beatles song "Lady Madonna" in emulation of Domino's style, combining it with a nod to Humphrey Lyttelton's 1956 hit "Bad Penny Blues". Domino returned to the "Hot 100" chart for the last time in 1968, with his recording of "Lady Madonna". That recording, as well as covers of two other songs by the Beatles, appeared on his Reprise album Fats Is Back, produced by Richard Perry and recorded by a band that included the New Orleans pianist James Booker; Domino played piano on only one track, "I'm Ready."
John Lennon covered Domino's composition "Ain't That a Shame" on his 1975 album Rock 'n' Roll, his tribute to the musicians who had influenced him.
The Jamaican reggae artist Yellowman covered many songs by Domino, including "Be My Guest" and "Blueberry Hill".
Richard Hell, an early innovater of punk rock, covered Domino's "I Lived My Life" with his band, the Voidoids.
The Jamaican ska band Justin Hinds and the Dominoes, formed in the 1960s, was named after Domino, Hinds's favorite singer.
In 2007, various artists came together for a tribute to Domino, recording a live session containing only his songs. Musicians performing on the album, Going Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, included Paul McCartney, Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and Elton John.
According to Richie Unterberger, writing for AllMusic, Domino was one of the most consistent artists of early rock music, the best-selling African-American rock-and-roll star of the 1950s, and the most popular singer of the "classic" New Orleans rhythm and blues style. His million-selling debut single, "The Fat Man" (1949), is one of many that have been cited as the first rock and roll record. Robert Christgau wrote that Domino was "the most widely liked rock and roller of the '50s" and remarked on his influence:
Warm and unthreatening even by the intensely congenial standards of New Orleans, he's remembered with fond condescension as significantly less innovative than his uncommercial compatriots Professor Longhair and James Booker. But though his bouncy boogie-woogie piano and easy Creole gait were generically Ninth Ward, they defined a pop-friendly second-line beat that nobody knew was there before he and Dave Bartholomew created 'The Fat Man' in 1949. In short, this shy, deferential, uncharismatic man invented New Orleans rock and roll.