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Frankie Knuckles, 'Godfather Of House Music,' Dies

By Kevin Robinson in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 1, 2014 2:25PM

Photo via Getty Images

Frankie Knuckles, the Bronx-born DJ and producer whose keen ear and knack for remixing songs helped lay the foundation for Chicago house music, died Monday afternoon at his home at the age of 59. Knuckles' death was widely reported over social media channels and confirmed by his longtime business partner, Frederick Dunson.

Knuckles earned his initial reputation in Chicago DJ'ing at The Warehouse in the late 1970s and early 80s, where he blended popular songs of the day with basic keyboard melodies, digital and vocal effects and pumping drum beats to create a style of music rooted in Chicago's streets that later traveled around the world and still influences today's modern DJs. Knuckles told Mark Guarino in a 2013 Sun-Times interview of those early days of house.

"(T)his 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' seminal experiments and reputation earned him the nickname "Godfather of House Music."

Growing up in Chicago, house music was a part of the audio landscape. I never met Frankie Knuckles personally and I don't think I ever even saw him spin live, but so what? The point of house music was to create an alternative sound for a diverse group of people that wanted to let go and dance and have a fun time in a space that was their own. (Ed. note: Growing up in Cragin, I went to too many house parties with Armando from WBMX spinning. My first introduction to Frankie Knuckles was his remix of Pet Shop Boys 'I Want a Dog.' What he added to that song made it introspective, without losing its groove. At a house party in the 1980s, nobody cared that I was wearing Iron Maiden t-shirts.—C.S.) Frankie Knuckles set in motion a phenomenon that would take off around the world and unite people on the dance floor. So if the point of House music was to bring people together, across boundaries, to share something universal like dancing to fun music on their own terms, mission accomplished.

House music came of age in Chicago at a time when minorities—ethnic, sexual and economic—were the cumulative majority in our city, but were otherwise voiceless. House music was about feeling good, feeling like you were a part of something bigger than yourself. If you were dancing to Frankie Knuckles in a nightclub with blacks, gays, Latinos, North siders and South siders, it meant you were on to something bigger, better, something cooler than just your neighborhood or your little city next to Chicago. So as I look back on what Frankie Knuckles gave to not just Chicago, but the world, what stands out is the sound, yes, the aesthetic, yes, but the truth is, it doesn't matter if you danced to Frankie Knuckles at a club, or drank beer in a basement in South Chicago because the music wasn't about Frankie Knuckles, it was about what he set in motion

What Knuckles leaves behind is more than the enduring sound that shaped the experiences and perspectives of a generation of Chicagoans. House music lives on not because Knuckles became famous, or the face of the sound, but because the music he made was so powerful that people wanted to share it. The DJs that emulated his style, the kids that wanted to make music like he made took House music and made it their own. And in that way, Frankie Knuckles made House music for all of us.

Check out Knuckles full DJ set for Boiler Room last year below, followed by his classic track "Your Love" and a great remix he did with Eric Kupper of Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff." Turn it up and enjoy today in his honor.