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mo' fidelity | December 10, 2018

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Frankie Knuckles Memorial Post

Frankie Knuckles
Raya Raycheva
Frankie Knuckles

Frankie Knuckles (1955 – 2014)


Frankie Knuckles, the man, considered the Godfather of House, passed away yesterday.
He was one of the true music pioneers of the 20th century, one of the people who shaped dance music in general.

“Songs lived in people’s consciousness a lot longer then they do now,” says Frankie in Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton’s “Last Night a DJ Saved my Life”.

And the same goes for true trailblazers.
Frankie Knuckles may have passed away but his revolutionary legacy is and will be in our consciousness for a lot longer.



As much as we would’ve loved to, we weren’t there to observe and take part in those first steps of the musical revolution. But we are, as well as thousands of others, immensely enjoying its heritage. Which is why in this Frankie Knuckles memorial post I took out the literature and instead of re-telling words, I’m leaving them just the way they should be.

And then there’s the music – the music which speaks for itself more clearly than any words ever could.


Frankie Knuckles: Godfather of house

From “The Record Players: The Story of Dance Music Told By History’s Greatest DJs” by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, pp. 233


Anyone with even a passing knowledge of dancefloor history knows Frankie Knuckles respectfully as the ‘Godfather of house’. In truth, the creators of house music were the electronic manufacturers who made the first cheap synths and drum machines, and the clubbers who put them to immediate use, turning out raucous primitive rhythm  tracks that were as effective as they were basic. Frankie’s role had been to inspire Chicago, to create an underground, and show the city how much creativity was possible for a DJ. As disco dried up he began playing edits of older songs in an effort to keep his dancefloor moving, and it was this aesthetic that guided the emerging style. So ‘Godfather’ is apt – as well as a career making some of the most sublime records in house, he raised the genre under his roof and gave it spiritual guidance throughout.

Frankie entered clubland with his childhood friend Larry Levan, running wild on the early disco scene: his first job was blowing up balloons and spiking the punch at Nicky Siano’s Gallery. Transplanted to Chicago after a residency at the bacchanal of New York’s Continental Baths, it was his sets of ballsy older disco at the Warehouse that ignited this polite Midwestern city and gave house music its name.



Frankie Knuckles – Select Discography (Warehouse 1977-1979)

From “Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979” by Tim Lawrence, pp.406-407


Ashford & Simpson – “It Seems to Hang On”

Roy Ayers – “Running Away”

Peter Brown – “Do Ya Wanna Get Funky With Me”

Buble Bee Unlimited – “Love Bug”

Candido – “Thousand Finger Man”

George Duke – “I Want You For Myself”

Ecstasy, Passion & Pain featuring Barbara Roy – “Touch and Go”⁴

First Choice – “Let No Man Put Asunder”

Taana Gardner – “Work That Body”


Frankie Knuckles & Larry Levan at the Continental Baths. Courtesy of Bob Casey.

Frankie Knuckles & Larry Levan at the Continental Baths. Courtesy of Bob Casey. From “Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979” by Tim Lawrence


Jimmy “Bo” Horne – “Spank”

Inner Life featuring Jocelyn Brown – “I’m Caught Up (In a One Night Love Affair)”

Kat Mandu – “The Break”

Chaka Khan – “I’m Every Woman”

Patti LaBelle – “Music Is My Way of Life”

Machine – “There but for the Grace of God Go I”

Sergio Mendes – “I’ll Tell You”

MFSB – “Love is the Message”

Moroder – “E=MC²”

The Originals – “Down to Love Town”

Positive Force – “We Got the Funk”

Diana Ross – “The Boss”

Skatt Bros. – “Walk the Night”

Gino Soccio – “Dancer”

Two Man Sound – “Que Tal America”


“I view house as disco’s revenge” – Frankie Knuckles

From “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, pp.312


Many DJs speak of their work in religious terms, few with as much clarity as Frankie Knuckles. ‘For me, it’s definitely like church.” He explained on Chicago’s WMAQ TV. ‘Because, when you’ve got three thousand people in front of you, that’s three thousand different personalities. And when those three thousand different personalities become one personality, it’s the most amazing thing. It’s like that in church. By the time the preacher get everything going, or that choir gets everything going, at one particular point, when things start peaking, that whole room becomes one, and that’s the most amazing thing about it.’

Knuckles in the crates - A Thousand Words Unlimited. Image: RA.

Knuckles in the crates – A Thousand Words Unlimited. Image: RA.

In Chicago, as the seventies became eighties, if you were black and gay your church may well have been Frankie Knuckles’ Warehouse; a three-storey factory building in the city’s desolate west side industrial zone. Offering hope and salvation to those who had few other places to go, here you could forget your earthly troubles and escape to a better place. Like church, it promised freedom, and not even in the next life. In this club Frankie Knuckles took his congregation on journeys of redemption and discovery.


And Frankie’s music was something completely new to most of these people. He would work the crowd into a frenzy by twisting songs into frantic new shapes with mixes and edits: New York DJing skills of which Chicago clubs had little experience. And at a certain stage in the evening he’d black out the room and throw on a sound-effect record of a speeding steam locomotive, panning the stereo sound from one set of speakers to another so it felt like a real express train was thundering through the club.


As well as popularizing the funky, the soulful – the dangerous – side of disco, which the city had rarely heard, he also imported its spirit, fostering among these polite, God-fearing mid-westerners the communal, emancipating hedonism of disco’s gay underground. In doing this he was the catalyst for an unprecedented explosion of musical creativity.

His club would give its name to a new genre of music; he would become known as its godfather. The music was house.



History will never be “obsolete”.

Frankie Knuckles. Image: Jim Newberry.

Frankie Knuckles. Image: Jim Newberry.

 “History will never be “obsolete”. History is necessary and relative. Especially if you’re trying to find your place in this industry. It’s not enough to just sample and take old musical ideas and make them yours. Studying and knowing the history of dance music is essential to a DJs survival. It’s part of a DJs education. Technology may give you all the tools you need to become a great DJ but one tool technology can never give you is STYLE. Style comes from education and exploration of music.”

– Frankie Knuckles, Mixmag Q&A




Raya (@rayaiam)

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