Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. (February 26, 1928 – October 24, 2017) was an American pianist and singer-songwriter of French Creole descent. 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. Billboard Top 40. His musical style is based on traditional rhythm and blues, accompanied by saxophones, bass, piano, electric guitar, and drums.
A contemporary of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats was among the first acts inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was reportedly only second to Presley in record sales thanks to a titanic string of 11 top 10 hits between 1955 and 1960.
Born in 1928, Antoine Domino was playing piano and performing in New Orleans honky tonks and bars by the time he was a teenager. At 14, he dropped out of high school, taking jobs like hauling ice and working at a bedspring factory as a way to supplement his music. Domino’s career was effectively kicked off at New Orleans Hideaway Club. While playing piano in local bandleader Billy Diamond’s band, Diamond nicknamed Antoine “Fats” — partly in homage to keyboard-playing predecessors like Fats Waller and partly because, as Diamond told one crowd, “I call him ‘Fats,’ ‘cause if he keeps eating, he’s going to be just as big!” Domino was initially hesitant about the nickname, but it stuck.
In 1960, Domino released his last top 10 hit, “Walkin’ in New Orleans.” Soon after, he left Imperial and continued recording for a number of other labels. As with his ‘50s peers, he scored few hits from that point on — but more thanks to changing times than from anything approaching the scandals or army duty that derailed Presley and Lewis. As RS writer Charles M. Young wrote about Domino’s less-than-dark side, “Offstage, he gambled a bit, had a thing for fancy cars and jewelry and was known to cook beans in his hotel room.”
Domino continued to record and tour for decades after his initial success. In 2005, he was back in the news after his Lower Ninth Ward home was flooded to the roof during Hurricane Katrina. After initial reports that he was missing, Domino was eventually rescued and, with his wife Rosemary and one of their children, lifted into a boat. “I ain’t missin’ nothin’,” Domino said after the rescue. “Just one thing that happened, I guess. I’m just sorry it happened to me and everybody else, you know?” In the storm, he lost most of his possessions, including almost all of his gold records.
As disastrous as it was, Katrina also gave Domino a renewed life. Alive and Kickin’, a new album released a year after the storm, became one of his most acclaimed works (RS named it one of the top albums of the year). In 2007 came Goin’ Home, an all-star Domino tribute album featuring covers by Elton John, Nell Young, Tom Petty, Robert Plant, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Lenny Kravitz, and Lucinda Williams.
Domino is survived by his longtime wife, their children — and by his legendary white Steinway piano, which was damaged by Katrina but restored thanks to contributions from the likes of McCartney.