Two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Fats Domino made a rare trek outside of New Orleans to appear in New York to raise money for struggling Louisiana musicians.

Recognizing the importance of Domino’s mission and his legacy, Mayor Bloomberg rolled out the red carpet for Fats and presented him the key to the city. The event and a concert were held in a now-shuttered nightclub in what was the old home of Studio 54 – a perfect setting for a blend of old New Orleans and old New York.

Later that month, Bloomberg traveled to New Orleans to examine at how that city was recovering two years after Katrina as well as looking at the construction of the USS New York, a hulking ship partially constructed with steel from the World Trade Center wreckage.

I tagged along on the trip and the most humorous moment of a rather-somber tour came courtesy of Fats Domino – who the mayor visited while he was there.

Trekking out to Domino’s longtime home in the Ninth Ward – which had been devastated by the hurricane – Bloomberg seemed almost surprised at Fats’ relatively modest trappings. The only sign of Fats’ success was a massive satellite dish on his front yard that seemed stuck in the 1970s.

As Bloomberg exchanged pleasantries with Domino at his front door, the mayor reminded him that he had given him a key to the city earlier in the month. Fats dug around in his pocket and there with his other keys was the bulky ceremonial gift that Bloomberg had bestowed him that November. Either unaware that the key didn’t actually unlock anything or just playing along to his own tune of life, Domino smiled with his just-fetched key and posed for photos with the mayor.

I later learned that Fats was sometimes painfully shy and actually suffered from stage fright. It took real work for him to leave New Orleans to come to New York and then pose for Bloomberg’s Ninth Ward photo op. But he couldn’t have been more gracious and unassuming, opening his door to the mayor and the New York media and speaking briefly.

We all remembered his music when we learned that Fats Domino died yesterday – but let’s also celebrate  man who tried to bring two cities together in the wake of a disaster. Sadly, it's the kind of disaster that seems closer to everyone's doorsteps every day.


Bob Hardt