Frankie Knuckles passed away on March 31, 2014, at the age of 59. It has been reported that Knuckles passed away due to complications from Type II Diabetes. It is without hesitation that I can write dance music wouldn't be where it is today without the legendary Frankie Knuckles. Although I was not alive when he was popularizing house music in Chicago, I do know that he earned the right to be called "The Godfather of House Music." I watched the documentary Pump Up The Volume back in college—about seven years ago—and it showed me how influential Knuckles was. The man was an absolute creative genius.
Knuckles originally started out as a disco DJ in New York. He was childhood friends with Larry Levan in New York City, and the two grew up DJing together. In the early 1970s, Knuckles and Levan would mess around with BPM and beat mixing, which was a brand new concept. Levan would go on to become the resident DJ at the Paradise Garage, where he created a whole new genre of music—garage. In 1977, Levan was approached about becoming the resident DJ of a new club named "The Warehouse" in Chicago, but he was content with where he was. Instead, he recommended his old friend Frankie Knuckles for the job.
At The Warehouse, Knuckles created a brand new sound. He played disco and soul music, but he didn't simply play the original songs. He would add pre-programmed drum tracks to the songs and create a constant 4/4 tempo. His ability to create completely new music and essentially remix songs on the fly made The Warehouse a legendary club. He would spin for eight-to-ten hours a night, and people would dance the whole time he played. His crowds were enamored with the music he played, and they started calling it "house music," as it was the music that people heard at The Warehouse.
Knuckles helped build a passionate house music scene in Chicago. This scene developed a number of talented house DJs and producers. It even influenced the creation of Detroit techno, as Derrick May (one of the originators of techno) would often come to Chicago to see Knuckles. In fact, Knuckles bought his first drum machine from May.
Although Knuckles had some success in Chicago, house music failed to hit the mainstream. It wasn't until he traveled to the United Kingdom in 1987 that he truly got to witness the fruits of his labor. Europe was quickly becoming infatuated with the sound that Knuckles helped pioneer, and he was treated like a star there.
The rest is history. House music took on a life of its own, but who knows where it would be today if it weren't for Knuckles? Would there even be a "house music" genre? The name was literally birthed from the club he was the resident DJ at.
Aside from his what he did to create the genre of house music, Knuckles also received a Grammy in 1997 for Best Remixer. Throughout his career, he remixed tracks from Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, and Luther Vandross. Chicago recognized Knuckles for his influence in 2004, as they named August 25 "Frankie Knuckles Day." He also had a street named after him: Frankie Knuckles Way.
Prior to his passing, the last time I saw Frankie Knuckles' name was when he spun a fantastic Boiler Room set. I will leave you with that amazing set so that you can get a taste of the legend's sound.