NEW ORLEANS – Fats Domino took the stage before a sold-out crowd of hundreds in a New Orleans nightclub Saturday, marking the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's first public performance since Hurricane Katrina.
Dressed in a snappy white jacket, the 79-year-old New Orleans icon was crisp and energetic as he sang and played the piano. The crowd jumped and screamed when he belted out "Blueberry Hill." Domino was accompanied by his longtime friend and musical partner saxophonist Herbert Hardesty. The pair have been playing together since the mid-1940s.
Fans who for years longed to see Domino perform such hits as "Blueberry Hill," "Blue Monday," "Ain't That a Shame" and "Walkin' to New Orleans" finally got their wish.
Domino, whose real name is Antoine, lost his home, his pianos, his gold and platinum records, and much of the city he loves during Katrina. He was rescued by boat from his flooded 9th Ward home after the storm struck on Aug. 29, 2005.
Domino last performed in public on Memorial Day 2004 at a casino on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, said Haydee Ellis, a close friend of Domino.
The Tipitina's Foundation, which put on Saturday night's show, is working with such artists as Elton John, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, B.B. King and others to record a tribute album of Domino's songs.
Proceeds will benefit the foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing the city's public schools with musical instruments and helping artists recover from the hurricane. Roughly 25 percent of the proceeds will go toward the restoration of Domino's home, said Bill Taylor, the foundation's executive director.
So far, the house's interior studs and beams have been rid of mold, and workers have begun installing new drywall. The back end of a pink 1959 Cadillac that for years sat in the living area and served as a couch is being restored. The room's walls will be painted to match their pre-storm pink color.
Domino's house is still surrounded by blocks of abandoned homes — many untouched since Katrina. For more than a year, he has been living in a gated community in a New Orleans suburb.
Domino is expected to move back into his 9th Ward home later this year — a sign of hope for many in the heavily devastated neighborhood, which some have said shouldn't be rebuilt.