Honestly, I feel like giving myself a knuckle sandwich for taking this long to pay my respects, but I gotta give it up to the late, great pioneer of Chicago house, Frankie Knuckles. Born Francis Nicholls in the Bronx, Knuckles first began DJ’ing in the 70’s alongside the legendary Larry Levan at the notoriously gay Continental Baths in New York City. The hybrid disco-bathhouse featured top notch entertainers and Frankie was no exception. Being at the right place at the right time certainly helped to cement his reputation as a pioneer in dance music. Arguably, disco helped to lay the foundation for house and Frankie was fortunate to be there live and direct, soaking up the sizzling influences of that era. After moving to Chicago in 1977, he began spinning at The Warehouse where he developed the style of music that has come to be known as “house.” His open-minded approach led him to experiment with combining elements of R&B with synths and a drum-machine to develop this rebelliously scintillating genre. It must have been exciting to be on the cutting edge of a new frontier as Frankie was at that time, along with fellow pioneers like Derrick May and Ron Hardy.
After his Chicago club, Power Plant, closed in 1987, Frankie headed off to the U.K. to play a residence at infamous house of rave, Delirium. Are you beginning to see a pattern emerging here? This man was definitely chosen to accomplish great things in the music world. I would give anything to be a fly on the wall witnessing the “Second Summer of Love” unfold, but Frankie was right up there in the mix. Respect.
Knuckles first grabbed my attention with “The Whistle Song” back in the 90’s. That track got heavy rotation and helped put him out into the mainstream. Frankie reached new heights in his career when he earned a 1997 Grammy award for Remixer of the Year, Non-Classical. A slew of remixes for noteworthy artists followed: Lisa Stansfield, Diana Ross, Toni Braxton and Michael Jackson, to name a few. And then, one of the greatest forms of recognition any artist could receive; a street renamed in his honour, “Frankie Knuckles Way” by the city of Chicago. To put further icing on the cake, August 25th 2004 was declared “Frankie Knuckles Day” by none other than Illinois senator, Barack Obama. It’s comforting to know that this openly gay, Afro-American DJ has received such tremendous respect and recognition for his abilities as opposed to his sexual orientation. A great blessing indeed, and a true testament to his hard-working, positive attitude and joyful approach to life.
Sadly, Frankie left us on March 31st, 2014 due to complications from Type II diabetes. Apparently he’d developed the condition after a skiing accident in which he’d fractured the metatarsals in his foot. He eventually ended up losing the leg, but still soldiered on like a true warrior. If anything, we should be happy for him. It might seem that he passed away prematurely, but I think he lived a full life, accomplishing so many wonderful feats and leaving musical treats to tantalize headz for generations to come. This raises the issue that we all have to face at some point: our own mortality. Most of electronic music’s pioneers are at advanced stages in their lives, and they will all leave in the coming decades. Once they’re gone, it will be interesting to see how EDM will continue to evolve. Will that soulful quality born from the early days still be present? Times change, people change and of course, the music will change. As long as there’s electricity, there will always be EDM. It is, however, important to note that consciousness affects sound, so the level of integrity is reliant upon where the majority focus their thoughts, for better or for worse.
Normally I don’t mess with politics, but kudos to The Obamas for remembering Frankie Knuckles in this letter from The White House:
Peace out, my fellow Ecstaticans. Take a moment to listen to “Your Love,” undoubtedly one of the greatest house tracks of all time has a smooth, chilled out ambience that is truly timeless.
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