Before sitting down at the piano, Antoine “Fats” Domino loosened his tie and gave the audience at the 1986 Austin City Limits a grin. With a nod, he launched into “I’m Walking,” one of the 11 Top-10 hits that made him a worldwide torchbearer of American music in the 1950s and ’60s.  “Our father was happiest when he was performing,” his daughters Andrea, Anola, Adonica and Antoinette exclusively tell Closer.

Despite his success, his children remember Fats, who passed away in 2017 at age 89, as a modest, family-oriented man who was deeply loyal to his New Orleans roots. A father of eight children (who were all given names starting with the letter A!), he remained married to his love Rosemary for 61 years until her death in 2008. “He composed songs about her and she handled our father’s business matters,” say his kids. “They complemented each other perfectly.”

fats domino 1956
20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

A Native Son

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame named him an original inductee along with Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, but Fats, who began playing in clubs at 15, pulled his musical influences from R&B, jazz, gospel and even country music. “Some of his favorite musicians were Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Hank Williams,” say his daughters, who note that their father wrote songs that broke down cultural barriers by being “simple and relatable.”

A passionate cook as well as a musician, Fats toured constantly — and always packed a hot plate so he could make gumbo anywhere. Music allowed him to give his family a comfortable life. “It was important to him that we had a good quality education,” say his daughters. Yet he chose to stay in the poor Lower Ninth Ward, where he grew up. “They wanted to know why didn’t I move with the well-to-do. Well, I was satisfied right here,” Fats said in 2004, a year before Hurricane Katrina destroyed his house and neighborhood. Fats and his family survived the storm and afterward he performed at events to help rebuild New Orleans. “Everyone loved and respected him in the community,” say his daughters. “They all called him Fats.”

— Louise A. Barile, with reporting by Katie Bruno