Antoine Domino was the youngest of eight children born into a Creole family that spoke French as its first language. Domino’s father was a fiddle player, but it was his much older brother-in-law, Harrison Verrett, who taught young Antoine the piano. By age 10, Antoine was playing professionally in New Orleans honky-tonks, where he earned the nickname “Fats” from bandleader Bill Diamond. In 1949, he caught the eye and ears of trumpeter, band leader and Imperial Records talent scout Dave Bartholomew, and a legendary partnership was born.
The first record Fats Domino put out with Bartholomew as his producer/collaborator was 1949’s “The Fat Man,” a big, foot-stomping boogie-woogie that established Domino’s signature sound. Over the next half-decade, Domino’s backbeat-heavy, rolling piano played a vital role in defining the shape of rock and roll. “Ain’t That A Shame” needed a boost from Pat Boone’s white-bread cover version before finding its way to the pop charts in 1955, but that breakthrough paved the way for two more top-five pop hits in “Blueberry Hill” and “I’m Walkin'” in 1956 and 1957, respectively.
After three decades as a major international star—a star who sold an estimated 65 million records worldwide—Domino went into semi-retirement in the 1980s, announcing that he would no longer travel outside his native New Orleans. A man of his word, Domino was not enticed to travel even to be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, a National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton or induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Domino remained a neighborhood fixture in the Ninth Ward, however, living in his colorful double-shotgun mansion and making occasional forays out to local clubs in his enormous, bright-pink Cadillac. Not surprisingly, Fats Domino returned to New Orleans as soon as he could following Hurricane Katrina.