Fats Domino embodied the beat and pulse of black music. An entertainment legend the entire race can be proud of, the Fat Man was a musical genius and R&B and rock ‘n’ roll marvel that sold millions of records during his lifetime.
“Black” from roots to demeanor, Fats dominated record sales and radio plays during his time. Domino’s personality and music broke through racial prejudice of the segregated era with hits such as “The Fat Man” (1949) and “Ain’t That A Shame” (1955).
The Fat Man made music for generations. For 60 years, Domino’s sound was instantly recognizable, its uniqueness aided by sharp sidemen. Domino ruled over early rock for decades. Unlike many black artists exploited by record companies, Domino opted for contracts that paid him royalties based on sales of records. He was one of the first black artists on national television in the ’50s, and toured widely in Alan Freed’s rock ‘n’ roll package shows
Born Feb. 26, 1928, as Antoine Dominique Domino Jr., a name wonderfully evocative of his hometown New Orleans’ Creole-infused culture, he was the youngest of eight children in a family with Creole roots. Throughout his life, Fats resided in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward.
Domino was a cultural icon from a cultural icon. New Orleans is a major influence on Black culture. The Louisiana port city, nicknamed “The Big Easy” for its round-the-clock nightlife, is renowned for its live-music scene and cuisine reflecting its history as a melting pot of French, African and American cultures. The city’s population of African-Americans during Fats’ heyday included Creoles descended from unions of Africans with French and Spanish. The Creoles often were labeled as “gens de couleur libres” (free people of color).
Fats was at once urbane and country. He grew up and evolved in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, located in the easternmost downriver portion of the city and geographically the largest of its 17 wards.
Music filled Fats’ life from the age of 10, when his family inherited an old piano. A self-taught player, he loved all the popular styles of music: boogie, ragtime and blues. Domino left school at 14 to focus on music taking on odd jobs like factory work and hauling ice.
In 1947 Domino married Rosemary Hall, and they had eight children: Antoine III, Anatole, Andre, Antonio, Antoinette, Andrea, Anola and Adonica. Rosemary passed in 2008.
Domino also began his music career in 1947, and by 1949 he was already a big draw around town. In his most profitable years, he sold 65 million singles along with 23 gold records, second only to Elvis Presley as a commercial force. In his career Domino sold over 100 million records.
No less important was his influence on the music scene. For example, Chubby Checker of “The Twist” fame drew inspiration for his stage name from Domino’s.
A major chunk of Domino’s earnings were from the royalties generated by his hit records. He had toured Europe for the first time in 1962 and met the Beatles in Liverpool, before they were famous. Like Ray Charles, Domino was a tour de force and and a headliner act, performing worldwide.
In the mid-’60s, he appeared for 10 months a year in Las Vegas. On tour, he would bring his own pots and pans so he could cook. That ended in the early 1980s, when he decided that he did not want to leave New Orleans.
In recent years, Fats was often seen driving a pink Cadillac around New Orleans, after having emerged from his pink-roofed mansion. He regularly sported a white captain’s cap, with a fair splash of gold jewelry.
Fats’ net worth at death exceeded $8 million. With his relentless left hand, Domino brought a propulsive rhythm that differed from other R&B music. His influence during the 1960s and 1970s made him a music icon.
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com.