Jewish trivia quiz: Fats Domino, z”l

By Mark D. Zimmerman

Mark D. Zimmerman

MELVILLE, New York –New Orleans musician Fats Domino died last week at the age of 89. Domino was called “the real King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Elvis Presley, and John Lennon said that “There wouldn’t have been a Beatles without Fats Domino.” What was the Jewish connection in Fats Domino’s life?

A. Fats Domino lived next door to the Anshe Sfard Synagogue in New Orleans as a teenager and served as the “Shabbos Goy,” turning on the lights in the building on the Sabbath.

B. Domino learned to play piano as a child, practicing at school and at a neighbor’s house, as his family did not own a piano. In high school, Domino worked part-time for Morris Karnofsky, a Jewish merchant who owned the Morris Music Company, selling records, phonographs, and musical instruments. Recognizing the musical talent of his young employee, Karnofsky donated a small upright piano to the Domino family, and it was on this piano that Domino wrote his first hit, The Fat Man.

C. Dave Bartholomew, the musician, producer, and co-writer of many of Fats Domino’s hits, though not Jewish, is a descendent of Sephardic Jews who had immigrated to St. Thomas from Spain during the Inquisition. The family name was Bar-Talamanca, but when Bartholomew’s grandfather moved to New Orleans, he changed his name to Bartholomew and married a non-Jewish woman.

D. New York record producer Lew Chudd, son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, hired New Orleans bandleader Dave Bartholomew as a talent scout, and Bartholomew introduced Fats to Chudd. Chudd signed Fats to Imperial Records, where The Fat Man and many subsequent Domino hits were recorded and released.

E. Just as singer Chubby Checker chose his stage name and developed much of his musical style by copying Fats Domino, so too did Domino develop his musical style, and name, by copying from an earlier musician, Borscht Belt singer Schmalz Pinochle. In the 1930’s and ’40’s, Pinochle regaled audiences at Grossingers and other Catskills Resorts, singing such songs as I’m Gonna Be A Mentsch Some DayAin’t That A ShondaI’m Walking To Berditchev, and I Hear You Kvetching.

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Zimmerman is the author of the Rashi, Rambam and Ramalamadingdong series of Jewish trivia e-books. Learn more at

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