Good morning, it’s Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, the day of the week when I reprise a quotation meant to be inspiring. Today’s comes from one of the fathers of rock ’n’ roll, a man born this day in 1928. The youngest of eight children in a French Creole family from New Orleans, he was christened Antoine Dominique Domino Jr., but the world would come to know him as “Fats.”
Fats Domino shares a birthday with country music virtuoso Johnny Cash, who came into the world four years later. I’ve written about “the man in black” previously; this morning I’m writing about a black man who help create the most distinctly American form of music.
First, I’d point you to RCP’s front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters, columnists, and contributors:
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Trump vs. DeSantis: 2024 Clash of Heavyweights Starts Early. Myra Adams writes that the Florida governor’s rising star in the GOP was aided immeasurably by the 45th president, who could block his path to the White House. The two have bookended speeches this weekend at CPAC.
As AG, Merrick Garland Must Recuse Himself From Two Cases. At RealClearPolicy, Jack Rowing asserts that investigations into alleged improprieties by both Donald Trump and Hunter Biden require the appointment of special counsels.
Is Censorship the Answer? Also at RCPolicy, Brad Lips weighs in on the social media debate, arguing that greater civility in public dialogue can be achieved through persuasion, not by fiat — at least not without sacrificing core American values.
Global Lessons of the Pandemic. At RealClearWorld, Colleen Kelly points out that crushing the coronavirus in California or Canada is fruitless if it’s not crushed in Cambodia or Kenya, where mutations could arise and mount a fresh assault on developed nations.
To Reach Our Energy and Climate Goals, Civility Must Return. At RealClearEnergy, Brydon Ross laments that opposition to pipelines and other energy infrastructure projects has turned ugly, compounding efforts to achieve reasonable solutions to our nation’s needs.
Use of Forced Labor Undercuts Solar Industry’s Goals. Also at RCE, Mark Widmar spotlights manufacturing operations for a material used to make solar panels in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government’s mistreatment of the Uyghur population is well documented.
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After the end of World War II, an evolving new sound started showing up on records by African American musicians whose influences ran along a corridor from the Mississippi Delta all the way north to Chicago. It could be heard on “That’s All Right” by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup in 1946 and a Wynonie Harris single, “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” two years later. That word “rockin’” kept showing up, and not by accident. By December 1949, when Fats Domino released an eponymous 78-rpm single, “The Fat Man,” it heralded the arrival of a new genre.
Others would soon join the party. Theirs are names you know — Little Richard, Ike Turner, Chuck Berry — and by 1956, when Fats released his first full-length album (“Rock and Rollin’ with Fats Domino”), the influence of another genre had wafted in from the hills of Appalachia. It came courtesy of a passel of white “rockabillies”: Gene Vincent, Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and the Perkins’ brothers — Carl, Jay, and Clayton. And Johnny Cash. Who else am I forgetting? Oh, yes — Elvis Presley.
Elvis didn’t invent rock music any more than Abner Doubleday invested baseball, but more than almost anyone else, he intuitively gravitated toward a sound that merged these dynamic musical traditions into a crossover, biracial sound that drew young Americans of any race or background like a magnet. Presley’s only real rival in this regard? You guessed it:
They call, they call me the Fat Man
‘Cause I weigh two hundred pounds
All the girls they love me
‘Cause I know my way around.
At a time when much of this country, especially the Old South, was deeply segregated, Fats Domino played halls packed with enthusiastic audiences of black and white music lovers. Yes, it’s true that racial fights sometimes broke out at his concerts. But it’s also true that once in South Carolina, smitten Ku Klux Klansmen directed Fats’ bus back onto the highway when it got lost going to the concert.
As NPR noted when he died in 2017, between 1950 and 1963, Fats’ records made the R&B charts and the pop charts about 60 times each, outselling Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly — combined. Only Elvis sold more records.
It wasn’t only Americans who were captivated by this man and his music. Bob Marley asserted that Fats helped launch reggae music. George Harrison said that Fats Domino’s “I’m in Love Again” was the first rock song he ever heard. John Lennon said the first song he learned to play on the guitar was another Fat’s hit, “Ain’t That a Shame.”
In September 1964, during the Beatles frantic first U.S. tour, the promoters arranged to have Fats meet the Fab Four when the lads were in New Orleans. By then, the Beatles were first in the rock ’n’ roll pecking order, but Fats knew his place in the new music’s pantheon. Asked by a local journalist if he got to meet Beatles, he quipped, “No, they got to meet me.”
Elvis Presley viewed it this way, too. In 1969, as he was making his famous comeback, a journalist at a Las Vegas press conference referred to him as “the king” of rock ’n’ roll. Elvis demurred, pointing to the presence of Fats Domino in the very room.
Rock music had a “hard birth,” as Domino biographer Rick Coleman has noted, and many of those pioneers — Elvis and Johnny Cash included — lived hard lives or died before their time. Not Fats. Although he became reclusive in his later years, declining to play publicly because he feared his performances would not be up to his standards, he lived until he was nearly 90. He relented one last time in 2007, taking the stage at Tipitina’s in his hometown, where he played 11 songs and medleys in half an hour. He was 79 years old at the time and would live another 10 years. Commenting once on the secret to his longevity, Antoine Domino Jr. put it this way: “Clean living keeps me in shape. Righteous thoughts are my secret. And New Orleans home cooking.”
And that’s our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics