Fats Domino, the rotund, inimitable New Orleans R&B singer and pianist who became one of the defining figures of early rock ’n’ roll, died on Tuesday. He was 89.
Robin Nicoll, an administrative assistant at the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office in Louisiana, confirmed the news to Variety.
The most powerful, and certainly the most popular, of a generation of great Crescent City keyboardists, Domino rocked into the public consciousness in 1950 with the self-referential single “The Fat Man,” the first of a string of R&B hits that stretched into the early ’60s. In all, he toted up nine No. 1 R&B hits and 40 top-10 R&B singles through 1961.
In 1955, he crossed over to pop success with the slamming top-10 hit “Ain’t That a Shame.” He became a pop star of the first rank with hits like “I’m in Love Again” (No. 3, 1956), “Blueberry Hill” (No. 2, 1956), “Blue Monday” (No. 5, 1957) and “I’m Walkin’” (No. 4, 1957).
The propulsive swing of his insistent piano work and the immense warmth and fluidity of his vocals made Domino a pop luminary in an era of still rigorous racial segregation. Nonetheless, white performers cashed in on his repertoire with blander versions of his material: Pat Boone reached No. 1 with “Ain’t That a Shame,” while Rick Nelson hit No. 4 with “I’m Walkin’.”
His biographer Rick Coleman wrote, “As (Domino’s bandleader-arranger) Dave Bartholomew would later put it, Domino was the ‘cornerstone’ of rock ’n’ roll, inspiring many later legends who began their careers as Domino fans: Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, John Fogerty, Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen.”
In 1986, he joined Presley, Berry, Holly and Little Richard as an inaugural inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Domino placed his last pop hit in 1968 — with a cover of “Lady Madonna,” released earlier that year by his acolytes the Beatles — and was essentially inactive in the studio after 1980.