Frankie Knuckles: The Godfather of House

The Late, but Legendary Frankie Knuckles

“And I remember telling her this music’s gonna be around for a while. It’s gonna take it a long time for it to get to where it needs to be at, but it’ll be around for a long time.”

– Frankie Knuckles

Methodology:

I searched articles on the internet and took about three different ones. I compared all three to ensure that the information about him was correct. I also used some articles through the Woodruff Library site. By understanding and reading first, I was able to make my page flow and articulate my words better.

Introduction:

When we think about music genres and their origins, we always try to pinpoint a creator or mastermind behind the art of it all. This is the effect Frankie Knuckles had when it came to house music. Frankie Knuckles had the reputation of having birthed every aspect of the electronic dance music culture. He was the man many people called “ The Godfather of House.”

He was “ One of the Eighties and Nineties’ most prolific house music producers and remixers, Knuckles is, hands down, one of the dozen most important DJs of all time (Rolling Stone).”

Early Life/Career:

Frankie Knuckles was born Francis Nicholls in the Bronx, New York on January 18, 1955. As a teenager, along with his good friend Larry Levan (born Lawrence Philpot), Frankie would go to some of the after hour clubs in New York. Some of the clubs were known to be places where disco music was born. Prior to receiving their first job, Knuckles was studying commercial art and textile design at FIT. In 1971, he took his first job as a DJ. They both worked as DJ, where they played disco, soul and R&B at two well known disco clubs: Nicky Siano’s New York club, the Gallery and The Gallery.

Rise to Fame:

In 1977, Knuckles moved to Chicago. At the time, his old friend was opening up a club called The Warehouse. The is the place where Knuckles began to develop and master his craft. Knuckles began mixing different styles of music. He enjoyed the strangeness of things and loved for things to be dramatic and stark. Knuckles would mix his favorite hits to embody the feel he wanted on his dance floor. Some people described his mixes as more R&B be than disco. By then Knuckles’ popularity skyrocketed. And the word about this talented DJ began to spread quickly because the warehouse, which was initially a members only club for mostly African American  Homosexual men, started to attract larger crowds. The club attracted heterosexual crowds and White American men, causing the membership to be adjusted.

In November of 1982, Knuckles started his own club called the Power Plant. His music was so influential that Derrick May (one of the three creators of Techno music) sold him a drum. This drum would help enhance his music, which is what most DJs in Chicago were doing already. This is what defined early Chicago house music: a combination of a bare drum pulse with the disco classics. In fact, many people began to regurgitate his sounds. Knuckles made his first tracks with Jamie Principle.

Chicago House Music Gone Global:

Around 1987, Knuckles moved to the UK. At this time, Chicago house artists were in high demand and making a lot successes in the UK. Chicago House music and Detroit Techno music (pioneered by Derrick May) was hitting the charts overseas and introduced a new style of clubbing. A couple DJs brought the idea of ecstasy back to England and the idea of raves came about. A rave was a large gathering of people in a warehouse or club dancing to techno and house music all night and were often on Ecstasy. Knuckles was not interested and decided to move back to New York.

Late Career:

Once back in New York, he took on a series of clubs. He began working with well known figures like Luther Vandross and Michael Jackson. In 2011, Knuckles stated,

“All the programmers I worked with were all classically trained musicians . . . I was teaching them a different side of what it is they do. Infusing certain ideas like Debussy-esque piano over a very thick house track or bass line is something that blew their minds. It blew mine, too, but it’s something they never imagined and/or heard of before . . . We didn’t know if it would work or not, but it did.”

Knuckles was still very influential. And even help new and upcoming young DJs master their craft with the inclusion of vintage Chicago House music.

Awards:

In 1997, Knuckles won the  Grammy award for Remixer of the Year, non classical.

Health Complications:

In the mid 2000’s, Knuckles developed Type II diabetes. Unfortunately, he later developed a bone disease after having broken his foot on while snowboarding. In 2008, it caused for him to get his right foot amputated.  In 2014, Knuckles passed away from complications with his Diabetes.

The Legacy Continues:

  • In 2015, Defected Records released a compilation entitled House Masters Frankie Knuckles (tracks he had chosen before he passed).
  • As a tribute, Baby wants to ride was released and made it to number one on the UK charts, where the proceeds were given to the Frankie Knuckles trust foundation.
  • In 2003, Knuckles was featured in a documentary, Maestro.

Bibliography:

Billboard. 4/12/2014, Vol. 126 Issue 12, p11-11. 1p. 1 Black and White Photograph.

“FRANKIE KNUCKLES.” Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, chicagolgbthalloffame.org/knuckles-frankie/.

“Frankie Knuckles.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Apr. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankie_Knuckles.

“Frankie Knuckles: An Extended Chat with the Godfather Of House.” Blogsindependentcouk, web.archive.org/web/20140627171002/http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/11/27/frankie-knuckles-an-extended-chat-with-the-godfather-of-house/.

Matos, Michaelangelo, and Michaelangelo Matos. “House DJ Frankie Knuckles Dead at 59.” Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/frankie-knuckles-godfather-of-house-music-dead-at-59-243506/.

Slotnik, Daniel E. “Frankie Knuckles, 59, Pioneer House D.J., Dies.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Apr. 2014, www.nytimes.com/2014/04/02/arts/music/frankie-knuckles-59-pioneer-house-dj-dies.html?ref=obituaries.

Work of Frankie Knuckles: