The world of music and entertainment is in mourning once again after a true legend has passed away. Music icon Fats Domino, who helped shape rock and roll and pop music as we know it, passed away early this morning at the age of 89. Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, coroner's office, confirmed that the music legend died of natural causes at 3:30 AM on Tuesday. The musician leaves behind a legacy that few can come close to in the music industry.
Fats Domino was born Antoine Domino Jr. on February 26, 1928 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of a violin player who was one of nine children in their large family. His cousin left an old upright piano in his house, which lead him to teach himself a number of popular piano styles such as ragtime, blues and boogie-woogie as a child, with Fats Waller and Albert Ammons some of his earliest influences. He dropped out of school at just 14, working in a factory by day and playing in local New Orleans clubs by night, such as the Hideaway Club, where he was paid $3 a week. In 1949, he was signed by the Imperial record company, and he recorded his first song, "The Fat Man," in a small recording studio in the French Quarter.
In 1955, he broke into the mainstream white charts with "Ain't It a Shame," which was covered by Pat Boone and several decades later by Cheap Trick, with perhaps his biggest hit, 1956's "Blueberry Hill," selected by the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry as a historic sound recording worthy of preservation. He even appeared in rock and roll films such as The Girl Can't Help It and Shake Rattle and Rock. He was one of the first African-American performers to appear on rock and roll movies and TV shows, and he even brought his unique rock and roll style to other genres, recording Hank Williams country song "Jambalaya" and Bobby Charles' "Walkin' to New Orleans." Among his biggest hits in the 1960s included "Be My Guest," "I'm Ready," and "I'm Walkin'" the latter of which became the debut single for Ricky Nelson.
While his popularity began to wane in the late 1960s, as musical tastes shifted towards British groups like The Beatles and others, he still sold over 110 million records throughout his illustrious career, with over 35 records reaching the U.S. Billboard Top 40. He was one of the first 10 artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, joining an inaugural class that also includes Elvis Presley, James Brown, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis. He decided in the 1980s that he would never leave his hometown of New Orleans again, even refusing to visit the White House in 1998, when he became the first pure rock and roll artist to receive the National Medal for the Arts. The music legend cited his age as the reason he couldn't make the trip to receive the medal in person from President Bill Clinton.
Fats Domino also made headlines in 2005 when he refused to leave his home as Hurricane Katrina struck. While at first many were unaware if he had survived the storm, it was later revealed that he and his family were rescued by a boat, although he lost three pianos, dozens of gold and platinum records and other music memorabilia from his home. While he was scheduled to perform at the 2006 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, he just tipped his hat to the crowd, but he returned to performing the next year at Tipitina's music club in New Orleans, a performance that is said to be one of the highlights of several tumultuous years in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While he moved to the New Orleans suburb of Harvey after the storm, he continued to visit his publishing house in the Lower 9th Ward, continuing to inspire residents of the Crescent City. He is preceded in death by his wife of more than 50 years, Rosemary, who passed away in 2008, and survived by his eight children as reported by NBC Los Angeles.