Frankie Knuckles, the “Godfather of House”, has passed away aged 59. We take a look back at the life and times of a man who redefined a music genre.
In 1977, while Donna Summer’s I Feel Love was resonating throughout discos across North America, 22-year-old Frankie Knuckles was setting up camp at The Warehouse in Chicago, where he had begun experimenting with a sound different from anything we’d heard before. The music was house, and it comprised, amongst others, a mixture of disco, soul, R&B and even a little rock that would mark a monumental change in music throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Changing the music scene
Knuckles’ reel-to-reel extended edits of his old favourites would go on to raise The Warehouse’s profile far more than anybody could ever imagine. Originally a haunt for black, gay men, the club began to attract patrons from all walks of life, so much so that owner Robert Williams had to introduce memberships. Knuckles left the club in 1982 to open The Power Plant, and by 1985, he had joined forces with singer songwriter Jamie Principle.
An inspiration to all
As news of Knuckles’ and Principle’s musical genius began to spread, the classics we know today as Your Love (1986), Baby Wants to Ride (1987) and The Whistle Song (1991) had made their way across the pond to Europe. British DJs Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling had had “Chicago house” on the radar for some time by then, and the iconic club nights of Ibiza soon evolved into British “raves”.
A new generation
By 2009, Knuckles had worked with some of music’s biggest names including Luther Vandross, Michael and Janet Jackson, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston and Mary J Blige. His profile was raised once again in 2011 when he produced a controversial remix of Hercules and Love Affair’s Blind, which received critical acclaim. In April 2013, he made his mark on the festival circuit thanks to a stellar session at The Boiler Room.
Born to a humble home in the Bronx in 1955, Knuckles reached the end of his life with a Grammy, received in 1998; a street in Chicago named in his honour in 2004; and an induction into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Tributes have been pouring in on Twitter from music moguls the world over, expressing their love and respect for the man who invented house.
Working for an independent start-up magazine, Démodé, I wrote a series of features that aligned with the magazine’s “vintage” theme. Here is a eulogy to Frankie Knuckles, who died in 2014.
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