Fats Domino was a first in many respects, including the Jazz Fest poster.
We first honored Fats in 1989 with Richard Thomas' groundbreaking portrait. It was the first Jazz Fest poster to portray a specific musical artist (prior to that the posters featured thematic graphics) and ushered in what grew into the ReMarque edition with the first performer-signed "special edition." Fats inspired the now 29-year tradition of honoring local legends. He was the rock upon which the school of rock was built. And he was so much more: warm, unassuming and uniquely New Orleans.
Our favorite anecdote dates to that first poster. It took some convincing that signing 500 prints wouldn't burden him. He finally agreed when we said we'd bring the prints to his house. On the appointed day - a Monday - we arrived to find Fats in his kitchen in the Lower Ninth Ward stirring a big pot of red beans. He began signing the posters at his kitchen table, getting up every so often to sample the beans, season them and stir the pot.
We were new at this, so we didn't notice that his tasting technique had left its mark on the first few posters of each batch he signed. Every time he went to the stove, he got beans on his thumb. When he returned to signing, he would impart a red bean thumbprint on the first few prints he handled. They are among the most coveted prints in the edition. Tasty in every way and an unexpected - and rare - ReMarque. Without that unique mark, these double-signed prints command over $4,000 each - way more than their original $150 publication price. With his thumbprint? Priceless.
The 1989 Jazz Fest posters were signed in Fats' kitchen.
Fats inspired us once again with his dramatic rescue from the high waters of Katrina - a symbol of our indomitable spirit. We commemorated the first post-Katrina Jazz Festival with a portrait of him for 2006, this time by New Orleans' great artist James Michalopoulos, that sold out of all editions immediately. What we wrote then is a fitting coda:
"If there's a living symbol of all that makes New Orleans great and unique, it's Antoine "Fats" Domino. His debut million-selling 1949 single, "The Fat Man" (derived from his nickname) is considered by many to be the first rock & roll record ever. Fats went on to become the second largest-selling rock & roll star of the 50's and early-60's, behind only Elvis. He had 35 Top-40 singles from 1955 through 1963, on his way to selling more than 65 million records.
"Michalopoulos' portrait draw[s] the viewer's eye towards an improbably balanced Fats pounding and tickling his piano into submission. This work sums up the man, his city, its music and their place in our hearts... [T]his was the first Jazz Fest poster produced after water topped the levees. Along with Fats' improbable rescue from the roof of his home, this poster proved that no mere force of nature can change the soul of a great city."
And there you have it. You gave us life. You gave the City soul. You kept us proud. We'll miss you.