Remembering ‘Fats’ Domino

Published 9:41 pm Monday, November 6, 2017

By Joseph L. Bass

Few younger people know much about “Fats” Domino or read articles about his recent passing.

Only old people like me were around to witness the beginning of his two incredible life achievements. More than 65 million of his records were sold and he penetrated the solid wall of racial prejudice in the American South in the 1950’s, opening the door for many others to follow.

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How did Antonie Dominique Domino, Jr. accomplish what he did? Was he a wealthy, well-educated, white child of privilege born with a silver spoon in his mouth? Fats Domino, as he is best known, had none of these so-called privileges.

What he did have and how he used his natural talents should be instructive.

A major factor in Fats’ life was that he had a family — a father and a mother. He was the youngest of nine children. He and his wife, Rose Mary, were married until her death in 2008. At 10, his brother-in-law, the jazz guitarist Harrison Verret, taught him to play the piano.

But a listing of his other life factors would not necessarily lead one to think Fats would accomplish anything important.

He was black. His first language was Louisiana Creole, a mix of African and French developed when Louisiana was a slave colony. He went to school for only four years and left to be an ice man’s helper when few had refrigerators, depending on a 50-pound block of ice being delivered twice a week. He grew up and lived most of his life in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward (only Hurricane Katrina drove him out).

The songs he wrote and his piano playing provided an avenue to international fame. His songs dealt with simple subjects that appealed to the masses, regardless of race or ethnicity.

He played the piano and lived life with positive enthusiasm. He grew up under the degradation inflicted on black Americans by Jim Crow. But there was nothing negative about him.

When I was growing up in racially intolerant Oklahoma, there was “white music” and “black music.” There was not yet anything known as rock and roll. White music was presented on a radio and TV program called “Your Hit Parade.” “How Much is That Doggie in the Window” was a popular song.

And then Fats Domino came along with “The Fat Man,” “Ain’t That a Shame,” “Blueberry Hill,” “Blue Monday” and so on. Many consider “The Fat Man” the original rock and roll song.

No one I knew cared that Fats Domino was black. If any teenagers I knew cared about his blackness, they weren’t willing to say so. He could have been green. His music was enthusiastic; it dealt with mainstream teenage concerns that everyone dealt with. Regardless of his color, he spoke for us.

With Fats’ successes, other black performers became accepted. Elvis Presley called him the real King of Rock and Roll.

Unfortunately, the progress started by Fats has not continued into today. Maybe we should consider his approach to bringing the races together.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at