Chicago icon, ‘Godfather of House music’ Frankie Knuckles dead at 59Continue reading.
House Music legend Frankie Knuckles is dead
Frankie Knuckles, the DJ and remixer who emerged as a key figure in the origin of Chicago house music, is reportedly dead at age 59. His cause of death is not determined.
Several media outlets reported Knuckles’ death late Monday, and his death was confirmed via social media by fellow Chicago house artists DJ Deeon, David Morales, and Paul Johnson.
“Frankie. Forever.” read a tweet posted late Monday by Smart Bar, where Knuckles performed most in recent years.
Knuckles was born in the Bronx but earned the title of “The Godfather of House Music” in Chicago when he became a key figure in the underground club The Warehouse in the late 1970s and early 1980s. House combined splashy drum beats, elementary synthesizer flourishes, primitive digital effects and vocals that whisper, drone and roar with the spiritual release usually associated with gospel music but designed for total physical liberation.
“I miss it a great deal,” Knuckles told this reporter last year of those early days. “I was younger, had more energy and, like most youth, very experimental. But most importantly, this was uncharted territory. It was new to everyone here. We were making it up as we go along. The city didn’t know how to regulate and therefore, left us to our own devices. As long as we weren’t hurting anybody and abiding by the law, it was all good.”
Knuckles said he took his role as “the Godfather of House Music” “very seriously.” Since those early days, the notion of jet-setting DJs has dominated the electronic scene, which Knuckles said is “like making the doctor greater than the medicine.”
“It’s the same in DJ culture. To play these large arenas where the stage is so far away from the audience, the superstar DJ can hide behind pre-recorded mix programs. Versus being in a DJ booth putting in the work, elevating the energy in the room and folks getting close enough to see you actually make all the musical transitions,” he said.
As a producer, Knuckles is known for iconic singles by Jamie Principle (“Baby Wants to Ride,” “Your Love”) and remix work for Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, among others. His own singles, including “The Whistle Song,” became club anthems.
Knuckles regularly returned to Chicago to perform at Smart Bar or larger gatherings like the Wavefront Music Festival where EDM audiences were primed to appreciate his earlier work. In 2004, Chicago renamed the block of Jefferson St. near the site of the former Warehouse club “Frankie Knuckles Way.”
Knuckles said he was aware of his influence, but said he was motivated to keep house music relevant in the modern day.
“I have to produce music at a level that’s not just appealing to kids but, adults and sophisticated listeners,” he said. “I represent a lot of people who really believe in this music.”
Here is “The Whistle Song” by Frankie Knuckles, from 1991: