Rock and roll pioneer Fats Domino, dead at 89

Clive Limpkin/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Fats Domino, whose piano-driven R&B hits more than 60 years ago helped define rock and roll, has died in New Orleans.  He was 89.

Domino died Wednesday morning, surrounded by family and friends, according to his daughter.  The Jefferson Parish coroner’s office says he died of natural causes at 3:30 a.m. local time.

Born Antoine Domino, Jr. in New Orleans, he was nicknamed “Fats” early on in part due to his portly stature.  He began playing professionally while still in his teens, and recorded his first record, “The Fat Man,” in 1949.  Four years later, it had sold a million copies, believed to be the first early rock and roll record to achieve that milestone.

But Domino is best known for his string of classic hits that began in 1955 with “Ain’t That a Shame,” which combined blues, R&B and classic boogie woogie into Domino’s signature style.  “Ain’t That a Shame” reached the pop chart top-ten, though a more mainstream cover by white singer Pat Boone reached #1.

Domino’s most enduring hit came in 1956 with a cover of the 1940s pop song “Blueberry Hill” — it sold over five million copies worldwide.  Hits like 1957’s “I’m Walkin’,” “I Want to Walk You Home” in 1959, and 1960’s “Walking to New Orleans” followed. 

In all, Domino recorded dozens of albums and released dozens more singles.  His signature sound influences countless other artists, including Elvis Presley and The Beatles.

Domino largely retired from traveling in the 1980s, remaining in New Orleans and declining to leave even when he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.  He was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987, and received the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton in 1998.

Domino lost nearly all of his possessions when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in August 2005, including his gold records, though the RIAA replaced them.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.