Francis Warren Nicholls Jr. (January 18, 1955[1][2] – March 31, 2014), known professionally as Frankie Knuckles, was an American DJ, record producer, and remixer.[3] He played an important role in developing and popularizing house music, a genre of music that began in Chicago during the early 1980s and subsequently spread worldwide. In 1997, Knuckles won the Grammy Award for Remixer of the Year, Non-Classical. Due to his importance in the development of the genre, Knuckles was often called "The Godfather of House Music".[4]

Frankie Knuckles
Knuckles in 2012
Background information
Birth nameFrancis Warren Nicholls Jr.
Born(1955-01-18)January 18, 1955
New York, New York, U.S.
DiedMarch 31, 2014(2014-03-31) (aged 59)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
  • DJ
  • record producer
  • remixer
Years active1970s–2014

Musical career edit

1970s–1980s edit

Born in New York City, in the Bronx, Knuckles and his friend Larry Levan began frequenting discos as teenagers during the 1970s. While studying textile design at the FIT, Knuckles and Levan began working as DJs, playing soul, disco, and R&B at two of the most important early discos, The Continental Baths and The Gallery.[5][6] Their DJing led them to the Loft and the Gallery, with Levan becoming the main DJ at the Continental Baths. Knuckles, initially hesitant about the Baths, eventually began playing there until its closure in 1976.[7]

The Continental Baths, located below the Ansonia Hotel, was an opulent gay bathhouse known for its steam rooms, swimming pool, disco, and more. Levan left in 1974, later establishing the prototype for the Paradise Garage.[7] After Levan's departure, Knuckles became the Baths' resident DJ until its closure.

In the late 1970s, Knuckles moved from New York City to Chicago,[8] where his old friend, Robert Williams, was opening what became the nightclub called Warehouse. When the club opened in Chicago in 1977, he was invited to play on a regular basis. Knuckles accepted the offer and moved to Chicago in 1977, becoming the resident DJ at the Warehouse. The Warehouse, situated in Chicago's west side industrial zone, emerged as a sanctuary for the city's black and gay community, offering a haven for those seeking freedom and salvation through music. Knuckles' DJ sets at the Warehouse were transformative experiences, drawing in crowds of up to 2,000 people, primarily from the black and gay demographic.[9] The club's intense and soulful parties became akin to a religious gathering, where the diverse attendees found unity and spiritual connection.

In the late 1970s, as disco faced challenges, Knuckles sought ways to keep the genre alive in Chicago. He began experimenting with re-edits of songs, extending intros and breaks, and adding new beats to rejuvenate old favorites.[9] These DJ alchemy experiments at the Warehouse laid the foundation for the emergence of house music. While the Warehouse initially faced skepticism from the wider Chicago club scene, it eventually gained recognition as adventurous straight audiences began attending. Wayne Williams, a young DJ from the south side, was among those influenced by Knuckles' music. Williams, inspired by the unique sound, introduced it to his audiences, becoming one of Chicago's most successful DJs and spreading the "house" sound beyond the gay clubs.[9]

House music's name itself originated from the Warehouse, reflecting the exclusive, underground vibe of the club. Initially, "house" referred to an attitude and a feeling associated with cool, underground music. As Knuckles continued to reshape disco tracks and experiment with remixing, the term "house" evolved into a genre of its own.[9]

Knuckles continued DJing at the Warehouse until November 1982, when he started his own Chicago club, The Power Plant.[10]

Around 1983, Knuckles bought his first drum machine to enhance his mixes from Derrick May,[11][12] a young DJ who regularly made the trip from Detroit to see Knuckles at the Warehouse and Ron Hardy at the Music Box, both in Chicago.[13] The combination of bare, insistent drum machine pulses and an overlay of cult disco classics defined the sound of early Chicago house music, a sound which many local producers began to mimic in the studios by 1985.

When his next club the Powerhouse closed in 1987, Knuckles moved to the UK for four months and DJ-ed at DELIRIUM!, a Thursday night party at Heaven, a gay nightclub in London.[14] Chicago house artists were in high demand and having major success in the UK with this new genre of music.[15] Knuckles also had a stint in New York, where he continued to immerse himself in producing, remixing, and recording.[13] 1988 saw the release of Pet Shop Boys' third album, Introspective, which featured Knuckles as a co-producer of the song "I Want a Dog."

Work with Jamie Principle edit

In 1982, Knuckles was introduced to then-unknown Jamie Principle by mutual friend Jose "Louie" Gomez, who had recorded the original vocal-dub of "Your Love" to reel-to-reel tape. Louie Gomez met up with Frankie at the local record pool (I.R.S.) and gave him a tape copy of the track. Knuckles played Gomez's unreleased dub mix for an entire year in his sets during which it became a crowd favorite. Knuckles later went into the studio to re-record the track with Principle, and in 1987 helped put Your Love and Baby Wants to Ride out on vinyl after these tunes had been regulars on his reel-to-reel player at the Warehouse for a year.[13]

As house music was developing in Chicago, producer Chip E. took Knuckles under his tutelage and produced Knuckles' first recording, "You Can't Hide from Yourself".[16] Then came more production work, including Jamie Principle's "Baby Wants to Ride", and later "Tears" with Robert Owens (of Fingers Inc.) and (Knuckles' protégé and future Def Mix associate) Satoshi Tomiie.[13]

1990s–2010s edit

Frankie Knuckles in 2006 (on the left)

Knuckles made numerous popular Def Classic Mixes with John Poppo as sound engineer, and Knuckles partnered with David Morales on Def Mix Productions.[17] His debut album Beyond the Mix (1991), released on Virgin Records, contained what would be considered his seminal work, "The Whistle Song",[18] which was the first of four number ones on the US dance chart.[19] The Def Classic mix of Lisa Stansfield's "Change", released in the same year, also featured the whistle-like motif. Another track from the album, "Rain Falls", featured vocals from Lisa Michaelis. Eight thousand copies of the album had sold by 2004.[20] Other key remixes from this time include his rework of the Electribe 101 anthem "Talking with Myself" and Alison Limerick's "Where Love Lives".

When Junior Vasquez took a sabbatical from The Sound Factory in Manhattan, Knuckles took over and launched a successful run as resident DJ.[21] He continued to work as a remixer through the 1990s and into the next decade, reworking tracks from Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Diana Ross, Eternal and Toni Braxton. He released several new singles, including "Keep on Movin'" and a re-issue of an earlier hit "Bac N Da Day" with Definity Records. In 1995, he released his second album titled Welcome to the Real World. By 2004, 13,000 copies had sold.[20]

Openly gay, Knuckles was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1996.[22]

In 2004, Knuckles released a 13-track album of original material – his first in over a decade – titled A New Reality.[23]

Death edit

In the mid-2000s, Knuckles developed Type II diabetes. He developed osteomyelitis after breaking his foot snowboarding, and had it amputated after declining to take time off for treatment.[24] On March 31, 2014, he died in Chicago at the age of 59 due to the complications from his diabetes.[25][26]

Legacy edit

In April 2015, a year after his death, Defected Records released a retrospective compilation, House Masters Frankie Knuckles; Knuckles had selected the track list before his death. Also, the same month, as a tribute to Knuckles, a version of his song "Baby Wants to Ride" was released by Underworld and Heller and Farley to mark the year anniversary of his death. It went straight to number one on the UK's first ever Official Vinyl Singles Chart. All proceeds went to the Frankie Knuckles Trust/Elton John AIDS Foundation.[27] A year after his death, on April 4, 2015, an In Memoriam Essential Mix on BBC Radio 1 was played containing two previously unreleased Knuckles mixes.[28] Knuckles was featured in the documentary films Maestro (2003), written and directed by Josell Ramos,[29][30] The UnUsual Suspects: Once Upon a Time in House Music (2005), directed by Chip E.[31] and Continental (2013) about the Continental Baths.

Frankie Knuckles famously referred to house music as "disco's revenge" – a phrase that has been lauded by artists and DJs since his passing.[32]

Awards and honors edit

A section of Jefferson Street in Chicago near the site of Warehouse was renamed the Honorary "The Godfather of House Music" Frankie Knuckles Way in August 2004[33]

In 1997, Knuckles won the Grammy Award for Remixer of the Year, Non-Classical.[34] In 2004, the city of Chicago – which "became notorious in the dance community around the world for passing the so-called 'anti-rave ordinance' in 2000 that made property owners, promoters and deejays subject to $10,000 fines for being involved in an unlicensed dance party" – named a stretch of street in Chicago[35] after Knuckles, where the old Warehouse once stood, on Jefferson Street between Jackson Boulevard and Madison Street.[36] That stretch of street, called Frankie Knuckles Way, "was renamed when the city declared 25 August 2004 as Frankie Knuckles Day. The Illinois state senator who helped make it happen was Barack Obama.[34] In 2005, Knuckles was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his achievements.[34][35]

DJ Magazine Top 100 DJs edit

Year Position Notes Ref.
1997 49 New Entry [37]
1998 54 Down 5
1999 23 Up 31
2000 69 Down 46
2001 95 Down 26
2002 78 Up 17
2003 90 Down 12

Discography edit

  • Beyond the Mix (1991)
  • Welcome to the Real World (1995)

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Slotnick, Daniel E. (April 2, 2014). "Frankie Knuckles, 59, Pioneer House D.J., Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  2. ^ Matos, Michaelangelo (April 1, 2014). "Frankie Knuckles, Godfather of House Music, Dead at 59". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  3. ^ Barnes, Marcus (November 28, 2012). "Frankie Knuckles: An extended chat with the Godfather of House". The Independent. Archived from the original on June 27, 2014. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  4. ^ "Frankie Knuckles". AllMusic. Retrieved July 2, 2012.
  5. ^ Frank Broughton (February 27, 1995). "Frankie Knuckles". DJ History. NYC. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014.
  6. ^ Bush, John. "Biography: Frankie Knuckles". Allmusic. Retrieved June 8, 2010.
  7. ^ a b Brewster, Broughton, Bill, Frank (2014). Last Night a DJ Saved My Life (Revised ed.). Grove Press New York. pp. 129–130.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Greg Kot (April 1, 2014). "Frankie Knuckles, house music 'godfather,' dead at 59". The Chicago Tribune.
  9. ^ a b c d Brewster, Broughton, Bill, Frank (2014). Last Night a DJ Saved My Life (Revised ed.). Grove Press New York. pp. 230–239.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Minsker, Evan (April 2014). "Frankie Knuckles, Chicago House Legend, Dead at 59". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  11. ^ "Frankie Knuckles, 'Godfather of House Music,' Dead at 59". Rolling Stone. April 2014.
  12. ^ "Frankie Knuckles dead; house godfather dead at 59". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. April 2014.
  13. ^ a b c d Greg Kot (April 1, 2014). "Frankie Knuckles, house music 'godfather,' dead at 59". The Chicago Tribune.
  14. ^ "Frankie Knuckles". Faith Fanzine. January 9, 2017. Archived from the original on January 9, 2017. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  15. ^ "Frankie Knuckles « faithfanzine". April 19, 2011. Retrieved March 31, 2012.
  16. ^ You Can't Hide From Yourself 12 Inch (12" Vinyl Single) UK Portrait 1987, Frankie Knuckles
  17. ^ Brandle, Lars. "Frankie Knuckles, House Music Legend, Dies at 59". Billboard. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  18. ^ Moran, Lee (April 1, 2014). "Godfather of House' Frankie Knuckles dead at 59". New York Daily News. Retrieved April 2, 2014.
  19. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco: 1974-2003. Record Research. p. 147.
  20. ^ a b Paoletta, Michael (May 15, 2004). "The House That Frankie Built". Billboard. Vol. 116, no. 20. p. 30. Retrieved March 24, 2013.
  21. ^ Slotnik, Daniel E. (April 2, 2014). "Frankie Knuckles, 59, Pioneer House D.J., Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved April 2, 2014.
  22. ^ "Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame". Archived from the original on August 12, 2014. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  23. ^ Brett Gibbons (April 1, 2014). "Birmingham-bound DJ Frankie Knuckles dies". Birmingham Mail.
  24. ^ Frankie Knuckles: House pioneer dies aged 59 2 April 2021, BBC
  25. ^ "RIP Freddie Knuckles 1955–2014". Fact Magazine. March 31, 2014. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  26. ^ "Legendary House DJ Frankie Knuckles Dies at 59". Gawker. March 31, 2014. Archived from the original on April 1, 2014. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  27. ^ "Frankie Knuckles Tribute Tops First Ever Official Vinyl Chart". Sabotage Times. Archived from the original on December 2, 2015. Retrieved January 3, 2016.
  28. ^ Frankie Knuckles BBC Radio 1's Essential Mix, Essential Mix Masters, retrieved January 18, 2017
  29. ^ "IMDb listing for Maestro". Maestro. 2003.
  30. ^ Maestro. 2005. ASIN B0009X76ZU.
  31. ^ The UnUsual Suspects: Once Upon a Time in House Music. IMDb. 2005. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  32. ^ "Frankie Knuckles 'invents' house music". June 14, 2011.
  33. ^ Honorary Frankie Knuckles Way, 2005
  34. ^ a b c Lars Brandle (April 1, 2014). "Frankie Knuckles, House Music Legend, Dies at 59". The Guardian.
  35. ^ a b "Frankie Knuckles: House pioneer dies aged 59". BBC. April 1, 2014.
  36. ^ Greg Kot (April 1, 2004). Chicago Tribune.
  37. ^ "Top 100 (250) DJ MAG 1997 - 2018 | Top 100 DJ MAG DJS VK Music Музыка 2019 2020".

External links edit