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FATS DOMINO,
1928-2017

Fats Domino, the New Orleans R&B singer-pianist who became an early architect of rock & roll, died Tuesday at his home in Harvey, La. He was 89.

His impressive run of more than 50 Top 20 R&B hits, 38 of which would cross over into the pop Top 40, started in 1950 with “The Fat Man” and would include the landmark rock & roll records “Ain’t That a Shame” in 1955, “Blueberry Hill” in 1956 and “I’m Walkin’” in 1957.

Recording for Imperial Records, Domino sold more than 60m singles between 1950 and 1962 when his string of Top 40 hits ended when “You Win Again” hit #22. He was second only to Elvis Presley in sales.

Like his peers Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, Domino employed a regional style that helped define the newly created format of rock & roll, in his case, a rolling piano style influenced by boogie-woogie, rumba, stride and parade rhythms. Unlike his peers, Domino was no sex symbol and not at all flamboyant: Heavy-set, he had a calming, even sedate presence behind the piano and a warm inviting vocal style that was more of a croon than a shout.

“He could really lock in with his band and play those hard-driving boogie shuffles—it was pre-funk stuff, and it was New Orleans, and he did it all his way,” Dr. John wrote in Rolling Stone in 2010.

His influence on future generations was significant, beginning with Buddy Holly and including John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen. He was, in 1986, in the first class to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and the National Medal of the Arts in 1998.

Domino stopped recording in 1980 and touring ended in the 1990s except for appearances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. He made news in 2005, when he was rescued from the roof of his New Orleans’ home after Hurricane Katrina.

A New Orleans native, Dave Bartholomew, the trumpeter/A&R man for Imperial Records, discovered Domino playing in the band of Billy Diamond and was the first to record him as a solo act. Bartholomew would go on to co-write, produce and arrange many of his records.

“Ain’t That a Shame,” released in 1955, the same year as “Rock Around the Clock,” was Domino’s first crossover hit, reaching #10 on the pop chart. When Presley hit with “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956, Domino went toe-to-toe with him in the Top 10 over the next year with “I’m in Love Again,” “Blueberry Hill,” “Blue Monday,” “I’m Walkin’” and “Valley of Tears.”

The Domino sound was consistent, and as tastes changed when the ‘50s gave way to the 1960s, he had his final major hits with “I Want to Walk You Home,” “Walking to New Orleans” and “Let the Four Winds Blow.” He left Imperial for ABC-Paramount in 1963, where an attempt was made to re-create the success Ray Charles had with his unique twist on country music. He landed only one Top 40 hit before moving to Mercury and then making a final comeback attempt in 1968 with Reprise.

Neil Portnow of the Recording Academy issued the following statement:

Our Recording Academy™ family is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of rock and roll visionary Fats Domino. In a career spanning more than five decades, Domino charmed audiences with his smooth vocals, boogie-woogie piano style, and unwavering humility. He is widely recognized for influencing artists across all genres, having a number of his hits covered by music industry giants, including John Lennon, Cheap Trick, and Led Zeppelin. In 1987, Domino received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy, our formal salute to his remarkable contributions to rock history. He will be greatly missed, but remembered for paving the way for rock and roll. Our condolences go out to Domino’s family, friends, and collaborators during this difficult time.  

 

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