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Riots and Rock ‘n’ Roll


In the 1950s, both white and black fans flocked to Fats Domino concerts, integrating many venues for the first time. In 1956, four riots took place at Domino’s concerts. Saxophone great Herb Hardesty describes the scene and police action at two concerts and says the riots weren’t about race, but they were great publicity. Domino biographer Rick Coleman, author of Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘n’ Roll explains that the alcohol served at concert venues played a role in the riots.

Asked by a reporter on camera whether rock ‘n’ roll could be blamed for rioting, Domino answered, “Well, as far as I know, music makes people happy.” When the reporter references a riot at a Rhode Island naval base concert, Domino smiles sweetly to the camera and says, “Well you know when the Navy and the Marines get together…”


-NARRATOR: With Fats' enormous popularity, promoters had little trouble filling concert halls and ballrooms to capacity.

White and black fans clamored to see Fats live, sometimes with explosive results.

-COLEMAN: He had more riots than any other rock 'n' roller, uh, maybe ever.

He had four major riots at his shows, partly because of integration but also the fact that they had alcohol at these shows.

So they were mixing alcohol plus dancing plus the races together for the first time in a lot of these places.

And it was leading to a little fights which soon bloomed into huge fights.

And they called the police.

-HARDESTY: We got caught in two riots.

And it wasn't -- it wasn't a racial thing.

There was a fight.

And with -- within the fight, the police decided to throw tear gas in the hall.

And everybody panic.

Well, it turned out not to be a riot, but people tryin' to escape -- tryin' to get away from the tear gas.

When they started broadcastin' that there was -- where Fats Domino was playin' and there was a race riot, that was a $1 million exposure right there.

All the news media picked it up.

So that was publicity.

But there... It wasn't a real race riot.

-COMO: Fats, this rock 'n' roll music seems to be under an awful heavy attack from all over the country. There's been riots.

It's been banned in certain parts of this country and abroad.

You know of any reason for that?

-Well, as far as I know, music make people happy. I know it make me happy.

-COMO: You wouldn't blame it on rock 'n' roll.

-No, indeed.

-What happened up in Rhode Island where you where playin'? -Well, you know how it is when the Navy and Marines get together.

-You don't think it was the music?

-No, couldn't be.


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