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Goodnight, Godfather

House music scene bids farewell to Frankie Knuckles

  • DJ Frankie Knuckles, shown here in 2007, died Monday at age 59.
DJ Frankie Knuckles, shown here in 2007, died Monday at age 59. (Getty Images )
April 01, 2014|By Ernest Wilkins | RedEye

As the dance music community mourned the loss of an international icon Tuesday, it also looked back to remember his legacy.

Frankie Knuckles (known as "the Godfather of House Music" for his pioneering work in the 1980s creating the genre now known as house) created a nation of DJs who trafficked in his trademark house style, a specific strain of dance music focusing on a concise 4/4 beat pattern, partnered with drum machines and synths. Knuckles died unexpectedly Monday at age 59.

Born in the Bronx in 1955, Knuckles moved to Chicago in the 1970s after honing his skills alongside fellow Dance Music Hall of Famer Larry Levan, playing the gay bathhouse scene in Manhattan. Quickly gaining a residency at the Warehouse club on Chicago's Near West Side, Knuckles used his skills to craft popular remixes of dance tracks. His popularity swelled to the point that his style became known as "house," a reference to the Warehouse itself. His style was the foundation of the modern dance music scene, from EDM on down.

Khal, editor-in-chief of Do Androids Dance?, an influential EDM/dance music blog, makes the point a bit more firmly. "To put it simply, there'd be no EDM without the groundwork that Frankie Knuckles laid during the late 1970s in Chicago."

In 2004, the city commemorated Knuckles' accomplishments by dedicating the stretch of Jefferson Street between Monroe and Van Buren formerly occupied by Warehouse as "The Godfather of House Music" Frankie Knuckles Way.

"One of the criteria I always look at is that you have a broader influence than the neighborhood, or city [of Chicago]," Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who was present during the naming ceremony, said Tuesday. "We're going to try to get a resolution in the city council to commemorate his death," he said, adding that the move could come as soon as Wednesday.

What of those DJs who have contributed to the genre itself? Some of the biggest names in dance music, from Questlove to local-gone-big acts like Derrick Carter and Flosstradamus, shared their grief on social media. RedEye reached out to several DJs, local and international about the influence Knuckles had on their careers and the dance music community as a whole:

Carlos Sosa, better known as DJ Sneak, said via email: "Frankie Knuckles, never will there ever be such a great man, He always made me feel like a little kid around him, his smiles will forever be remembered by this loyal pupil of house music. The legacy continues in all of us his students, and with great pride, I will honor his music, talent and great leadership. Thank you Frankie, God bless you."

Clayton De La Chappelle, better known as DJ DelaChapelle, said: "Frankie Knuckles didn't just help create the foundation for house music as we know it today, but he pioneered a style of music that can fit into almost every DJ's set. Regardless of where you came from as a DJ, you are playing something from Frankie or something inspired from him."

Dani Deahl: "When I was getting into music, it was the Chicago house legacy that got me interested -- people like CZR, Farley, Paul Johnson, Mazi and, of course, Frankie. I took pride in coming from the city that started it all and being someone who was part of his continuing legacy. I remember working for URB Magazine -- the very first story I was assigned was writing about his street dedication ceremony in 2004. I was thrilled I got to experience that and write about it as a Chicagoan for the rest of the world to share. The beautiful thing is that he can never be forgotten -- we wouldn't have dance music, as we know it today without his creativity, his love and his talent."

Memorial services for Knuckles have yet to be announced.

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