Fats Domino, the New Orleans musician who sold more records in the 1950s than any other recording artist except Elvis Presley, celebrated his 86th birthday Wednesday in his hometown of New Orleans. The iconic figure who had his first hit in 1949 with a single aptly titled “The Fat Man,” is one of the most important founding figures of rock and roll.
In 1986, Fats Domino became one of the first inductees into of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alongside Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and several other members of rock and roll’s founding generation.
But the R&B piano player born Antoine Domino Jr., the son of a violinist in New Orleans, was turning out hits years before rock and roll got its name and took off as a teen phenomenon. After his million-selling “The Fat Man,” recorded when Fats Domino was 21 years old, he continued writing songs with trumpet player Dave Bartholemew and helped popularize what was then called “The New Orleans Sound.”
He scored pre-rock and roll hits with “Goin’ Home” in 1952, “Going to the River in 1953 and others. But his first single that would today be called a “crossover” hit — that is, one that scored with white teenage record buyers as well as African-Americans — was his 1955 single “Ain’t That A Shame.”
The song was one of the first records of the rock and roll explosion and was so influential that 20 years later, John Lennon recorded “Ain’t That A Shame” on his album Rock ‘n’ Roll, a collection of Lennon renditions of the songs that shaped him in his pre-Beatle youth.
The record reached Number 10 on the Billboard charts, while at about the same time, a sanitized version by white, middle-of-the-road crooner Pat Boone hit Number One.
Though, with Bartholomew, Fats Domino wrote most of his own songs, the biggest hit he ever recorded was his cover version of a tune popularized in the 1940s by Glenn Miller, “Blueberry Hill.” Releasing his version as a single in 1956, Fats Domino went on to sell 5 million copies of the record.
The last time he cracked the Billboard Top 100 was 1968 with his version of The Beatles “Lady Madonna,” a song written by Paul McCartney who said that his vocals on The Beatles original were intended as “a Fats Domino impression.”
Fats Domino is scheduled to be the Grand Marshall of New Orleans Krewe of Orpheus Parade on March 3, though he is unable to ride a float so his son will ride in his place.
Here’s a flashback to the 1950s, with Fats Domino making an appearance on The Perry Como Show.