A genial and prolific musician, Fats Domino was the most commercially successful of a long line of New Orleans rhythm-and- blues pianists and vocal performers. Coming to prominence at the dawn of rock and roll in the middle 1950s, Domino is often named as one of that music's originators and classic figures. He was a gifted and entirely self-taught composer who parlayed his multiple talents into a long period of popularity with music fans of all races, and he stands perhaps as the most enthusiastic exponent of the Crescent City's great musical tradition.
Fats Domino was born Antoine Domino on February 26, 1928, in New Orleans, one of nine children. His father played the violin, and a relative, Harrison Verrett, was a well-known New Orleans guitarist who would later become a fixture of Fats's band. Verrett taught him to play the piano at the age of nine by means of instructional marks written on a piano's keys, and within a few years Domino immersed himself in music, quitting school at age 14 to work by day and play piano in the city's bars and small clubs by night. At some time during his early career, his five-foot-five-inch, two-hundred-pound frame gave rise to the nickname "Fats."
Domino cut his teeth as a performer in the midst of rich pianistic and vocal traditions; he likely heard and performed with such legends as Professor Longhair and Amos Milburn as a young man. He mastered a variety of piano styles, developed an infectious vocal style that avoided the hard-edged intensity of some of his bluesier contemporaries, and began to write songs. By 1949 he had a regular slot at a club called the Hideaway, where the influential New Orleans trumpeter, bandleader, and composer Dave Bartholomew heard Domino play a blues of his own creation called "The Fat Man": the lyric opened with the lines, "They call me the Fat Man/'Cause I weigh two hundred pounds." Bartholomew had connections with the fast-growing independent West Coast record label Imperial, and the two musicians recorded Bartholomew's arrangement of "The Fat Man" in 1950. By 1953 it was claimed to have sold one million copies.
Domino followed up "The Fat Man" with a string of other rhythm-and-blues hits, including "Rockin' Chair," "Please Don't Leave Me," and "Goin' Home," which reached number one on rhythm-and-blues charts in 1952. When the rock and roll phenomenon exploded in 1955 with the introduction of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry to a mass audience, Imperial was ready with its own star. It was no surprise that Domino's "Ain't That a Shame" went to the number 16 position on the pop charts in 1955. "I'm in Love Again" and "Blueberry Hill" did even better on the pop charts the following year, reaching the pop Top Ten. For the next seven years Domino enjoyed a long string of hits that reached high chart levels. Many of them—- "I'm Walkin'," "Walkin' to New Orleans," and "I Want to Walk You Home" among them—-are among rock and roll's canon of classics, part of the repertoire of many a cover band.