Sometimes, the people who shape popular culture the most are scarcely recognized by it.
That seems true when it comes to Dave Bartholomew, one of the pioneers of rock n’ roll.
Bartholomew passed away Sunday at the enviably ripe age of 100, according to The New York Times.
When most of us consider the basic elements of rock n’ roll, we think of guitars shrouded with a layer of distortion, mid-tempo drums and vocals shaded by a raucous burr.
Yet Bartholomew’s background reminds us that the genre which birthed rock was something significantly different.
It was jazz, and Bartholomew had the privilege of working with — and steering the careers of — some of its greatest stars. Indeed, the most famous name he was connected with was Antoine “Fats” Domino.
Few know that Bartholomew essentially made Domino’s career.
OffBeat Magazine reported that Bartholomew really started earning a name for himself while he was a talent scout for Imperial Records.
Before that, he would hone his trumpeting chops by playing on a riverboat that would travel from New Orleans all the way to St. Paul, Minnesota.
According to NPR, that was how he met Lew Chudd, the owner of Imperial Records.
Chudd ending up giving him carte blanche when it came selecting musicians, and Bartholomew chose Domino.
Under Bartholomew’s guidance, the eventual star would have 64 singles land on the Billboard charts from 1955 to 1964.
To put that in perspective, only one other rock n’ roll singer would beat that output during the same period. It was Elvis Presley.
Bartholomew ended up co-writing standards such as “Ain’t That a Shame,” “I’m Walkin,” “Blue Monday” and “Let the Four Winds Blow.”
He also worked plenty of other musicians aside from Domino.
“Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, T-Bone Walker, I was running the whole thing. I didn’t have to get an OK from anyone else,” he recalled to OffBeat in 2018.
“I sold millions and millions and millions of records. I wasn’t getting millions, I was getting thousands because I didn’t own any of the publishing back then.”
Along the way, Bartholomew did something more than sell a lot of albums.
He also created a signature sound.
“Rock n’ roll, R&B, it’s only a name. We started rock n’ roll,” he said.
His musical legacy also continued with his kids.
“I’ve got my sons, they making all kinds of music comin’ out of New Orleans,” Bartholomew told OffBeat. “I don’t like that rap music but when I started they didn’t like what I was doing either.”
It’s quite something to be so full of days that you get to see not only your own legacy, but also that of your children.
That’s something the musician and producer’s oldest son, Dave Bartholomew Jr., noted when announcing his father’s death.
“His body simply broke down,” he told the AP. “Daddy was 100 years and six months old. It was just that time.”
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