A New York Times obituary on rock ‘n’ roll icon Fats Domino, who died this week at 89 of natural causes, mentions his wife of 70 years and their eight children. But the story also notes that a complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
Karen Domino White wasn’t included on that list. That’s because she is one of Domino’s, four — possibly five — children born out of wedlock.
White is married with adult children and lives in Willingboro, New Jersey. She possesses the gift of song like her dad, though she leans more toward inspirational and gospel music than rock ‘n’ roll and the blues.
“My dad would ask me, ‘Where you get that voice from?’ And I’d say, ‘I think I got it from you.’ And he’d say, ‘But how do you get up there? Like ‘dat?’ ” White said, mimicking his New Orleans accent.
White’s mother, Virginia Byrd, met Domino in the mid-1950s, while he was touring on the Chitlin’ Circuit, the segregated touring venues friendly to African-American performers. Byrd was about 19; Domino was older and already married.
“My mom was out with her girlfriends, and a star was there,” White said, indicating her father. “He instructed his chauffeur to ‘find the girl with the big legs.’ And that’s how it started. Things began to boil from then.”
Byrd had three children with Domino and stayed with him for 15 years. He even bought Byrd a house in Maryland. While the arrangement sounds out of the ordinary, White said it wasn’t that unusual for entertainers who were always on the road.
White remembers whenever her dad would come to town, there would be music, joy, and laughter.
“Entertainers, they travel on the road, they meet women, and children are born,” said White. She cites Ray Charles, who fathered 10 children by 10 different women, as an example. “In my case, my dad wanted to marry my mother, but she made certain decisions at that time that she thought were best.”
White’s mother married someone else and went on to become a teacher before she died in 2001. As the family matured, White said, there was more acceptance of her and her brothers by her half-siblings. In 1996 in New Orleans, she met Domino’s wife, Rosemary, whom she said greeted her warmly.
Enduring thrill of ‘Blueberry Hill’
Over the years, White would attend Domino’s concerts whenever he performed nearby. In the past 20 years, her relationship with her father deepened.
She appreciated his wit, his droll sense of humor.
“I would ask him, ‘What did you have for breakfast?’ ” White recalled. “And he’d sing the answer: ‘I had myself a Heineken, Heineken, Heineken. I had myself a Heineken, and that is what I had ate.’ “
Her favorite song by her father is his 1956 classic “Blueberry Hill.”
“The lyrics, the innuendo — I think he was singing about my mother,” White said.
Especially this verse:
Though we’re apart
You’re part of me still
For you were my thrill
On Blueberry Hill
White has written a book, “The Domino Affect,” based on her mother’s remembrances of Domino. She said her mom and dad’s relationship was more than an affair.
“He just never got over it. And she didn’t either,” she said.
White spent Tuesday morning listening to some of her dad’s music. Something told her to call him. Her message went straight to voicemail.
She told him, “Hi, Dad. This is Karen. I just want to call and tell you that I love you.”
But he was already gone.
Domino recorded 23 gold records and sold 65 million singles through the 1950s and ’60s, second only to Elvis Presley during that time. But it was Presley who hailed Domino as the king of rock ‘n’ roll. His musical legacy makes White proud.
“For me personally, it was about embracing him every time, whether it was personally or on the phone — and just knowing that he made me,” she said.