Fats Domino’s piano, damaged during Katrina, is restored

To some, the white Steinway grand piano that sat on a stage in the Old U.S. Mint on Thursday afternoon might be just another piano.

For the Louisiana State Museum and the family of Fats Domino it is a priceless treasure, a piece of local and music history.

The piano, a favorite gathering spot for family photos, once sat in the living room of Domino’s Lower 9th Ward home.

But when the floodwalls failed during Hurricane Katrina, the piano was destroyed, along with the rest of the home and most of Domino’s possessions.

It might have been lost to the elements if not for the work of the State Museum and the Domino family.

The Domino family allowed the State Museum to salvage two Steinway grand pianos and a smaller electric Wurlitzer piano that sat at the foot of the beloved musicians’ bed back in March 2006.

One of the grand pianos is on permanent display at the Presbytère in the exhibition “Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond.”

The other piano will now anchor, “Louisiana Jukebox,” a future exhibit at the Mint that will let visitors experience the state’s musical heritage.

The piano was an important piece for the museum to acquire and restore.

“People who know and understand and appreciate music and Fats Domino’s contribution to music wanted to make certain this magnificent piece was restored,” said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.

And there are big names who made that possible. The piano cost about $30,000 to restore. Donations came from the Tipitina’s Foundation, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and even Paul McCartney.

With the money finally collected, work to restore the piano began a little less than a year ago, said Greg Lambousy, the State Museum’s director of collections.

The piano’s restoration did not make it fully functional, although it can produce some sounds.

Seeing their father’s piano back in its original form was a welcome sight for Domino’s four daughters, who attended Thursday’s unveiling.

“As soon as you walked in the front door, that was the first thing you saw,” said Adonica Domino, who recalled taking many family photos gathered around the Steinway.

“When we last saw it, it was floating out of the door in the water” after the flood, said Andrea Domino-Brimmer.

“It looks a million times better than when we last saw it,” said Charles Brimmer, Domino’s son-in-law.

Seeing it back upright and the way it looked when her father bought it more than 30 years ago is a symbol that New Orleans continues to recover from the storm, Domino-Brimmer said. “It shows our resiliency.”

Domino was rescued by boat Aug. 29, 2005, as the floodwaters rose in his neighborhood after the floodwalls failed.

Once rescued, Domino was taken by boat to the St. Claude Avenue Bridge. He later was taken to the triage unit at the Maravich Assembly Center at Louisiana State University. He and his family then relocated to the apartment of a family friend, former LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

These days the 85-year-old singer, songwriter and piano man known for hits such as “Ain’t That a Shame” and “Blueberry Hill,” lives on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish.

Though he did not make it to Thursday’s unveiling, Domino, who is famously shy despite decades of performing in public around the world, is doing well for his age, said Brimmer, his son-in-law.

Some days he decides to venture out, Brimmer said. Other times, though, he finds joy in relaxing at home after a life in the spotlight. “He’ll say, ‘I’ve been all over the world. I don’t need to go anywhere.’ ”