Fats Domino, Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Gentleman Pioneer, Dead at 89

The pianist and singer, whose life and work were bound up with the city of New Orleans, died of natural causes on Tuesday morning.

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Oct 25 2017, 5:15pm

Koh Hasebe / Shinko Music / Getty Images

Fats Domino, the pioneering rythm-and-blues musician whose boogie-woogie piano style and laconic baritone made him one of rock 'n' roll's greatest early successes, has died. He was 89.

Domino died of natural causes on Tuesday at 3:30 AM, according to Mark Bone, the chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana coroner's office.

Domino's commercial success through the 1950s—with a remarkable string of hits that included "Blueberry Hill," "Ain't It a Shame," "I'm Walkin'," "Blue Monday," "I'm in Love Again," and "Walkin' to New Orleans"—was only surpassed in rock 'n' roll by Elvis Presley. Domino sold 65 million records in that period alone and 110 million in his lifetime.

But his legacy extends far beyond his sales. His 1956 version of "Blueberry Hill" was preserved by the Library of Congress; he was an inspiration to everyone from Elvis Presley to The Beatles to Richard Hell. In his biography of Domino, Rick Coleman wrote that Domino's shows brought together black and white kids and stood in joyous opposition to racial segregation.

"Domino was the most widely liked rock and roller of the '50s," Robert Christgau wrote in an A+ review of Domino's best-of collection in 1990. "Warm and unthreatening even by the intensely congenial standards of New Orleans, he's remembered with fond condescension as significantly less innovative than his uncommercial compatriots Professor Longhair and James Booker. But though his bouncy boogie-woogie piano and easy Creole gait were generically Ninth Ward, they defined a pop-friendly second-line beat that nobody knew was there before he and Dave Bartholomew created 'The Fat Man' in 1949. In short, this shy, deferential, uncharismatic man invented New Orleans rock and roll."

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