Frankie Knuckles, Chicago's "godfather" of house music, died at age 59. Brandis Friedman has the story of his impact on Chicago's music culture.
Read thoughts and reflections from Chicagoans and fellow DJs about Knuckles below.
“Many DJs played a vital part in Chicago's dance culture, including Ron Hardy, Lil Louis, so many others here, as well as Frankie. What Frankie did was play a very important part in changing culture in general. Frankie gets the title of Godfather because he helped shape a different culture, along with Robert Williams, The Warehouse Club's owner, bringing a different musical vibe to Chicago. Frankie played a part in helping spreading the new sound that was developing out of Chicago. Breaking Jamie Principal's early raw tracks, and others, including Jesse Saunders, Steve Silk Hurley, so many. He will always be The Godfather to me. Frankie Knuckles will always be one of the biggest influences on me. I learned so much from him. I learned how to put music together and make music blend musically sound from his tapes, then sets. He was smooth and classy. I learned how to present a song to people by him. I learned how to have class from him. This was even before befriending him. He was such a kind and warm-hearted man. His smile and hugs were legendary.” – Jamie 3:26, house music DJ
“He was the godfather of house music. He was a trailblazer and a phenomenal DJ, and put house music on the map. You can’t talk about house music without mentioning Frankie Knuckles. He set the bar for DJs. If you knew you were going to a party and Knuckles was DJing, you knew it would be good music and a good time. His music is synonymous with good dancing, good times and being free. You can’t hear “house music” without dancing. It’s a vibe – a good vibe. – Kishasha Sharp, attorney
“Frankie was definitely the Godfather of House Music. He was the DJ who kicked off the dance music scene in 1977 at the legendary Warehouse Night Club, and then later at the Power Plant. He and Ron Hardy were the first DJs to embrace Chicago House Music and play it in the clubs. Not only did he play the earliest house records at the Warehouse and the Power Plant, but he teamed up with House Music producers like Chip E and started putting out House records in the early 80s. When there were very few Black DJs in the clubs, he expanded the dance music scene and opened up the door for other DJs to get that opportunity. His Remixes have taken songs from artists like Michael Jackson and Toni Braxton and made them dance floor anthems. My life would not be the same without Frankie’s and Ron Hardy’s influences. As a freshman in high school, my friend’s older sister started taking us out and got us in to places like The Music Box, La Mirage, Coconuts, and Club LeRay, and once even the Power Plant. I had the opportunity to experience this incredible movement that was foreign, exhilarating, uplifting and scary all at the same time. I witnessed gay and straight and black and white people all partying together under one groove. It changed the way I felt about music. I heard Frankie and Ronnie and Lil Louis banging this incredible music on these heart-thumping sound systems and it literally changed my life. I wanted to be a part of this any way I could. I became involved in the club scene and eventually became a DJ myself. I was inspired to seek out mentors like Julian Perez, Mike Hitman Wilson, Steve Hurley and Farley Jack Master Funk. Fast forward 30 years and I have gotten to know this legendary icon and even played at some of the same events with him. Frankie Knuckles started a musical movement that has spread across the globe and has carried on its wings a message of peace, love, harmony and acceptance. Peaceful travels, Frankie Knuckles, you will be missed. “ - Lee Farmer, DJ, Sound Engineer, Event Producer, and Technical Producer for VH1’s Master of the Mix
“He was [the godfather of house music.] He didn't give himself that title, he earned it amongst his peers, his crowd and fellow DJs around the world. Also when Chip E. did the song "Godfather of House Music,” we all assumed it was a tribute to Frankie even if it wasn't…. period! His selection of music, his style, his grace, his dedication and his loyalty. He always stayed true to himself and his people. Even though a lot of us wanted to hear him play a classic set just one more time, he had passed that point in his life. He did it like Frank Sinatra…… "His Way.” Everything I do, from producing to DJing has some form of Frankie influence. The way he treated his crowd (supporters, club goers and children.) It was how the people would be treated first, the sound system second, and everything else after. He didn't care how many drinks were sold, he cared about how many souls were touched. He was a class act person and an extremely hard one to follow. Just like Ron Hardy & Larry Levan, there will never be another FRANKIE KNUCKLES…….NEVER!” – Mike Dunn
“I agree with Knuckles being dubbed the Godfather of house music. The term “House” itself comes from his club, the Warehouse. I moved back to Chicago in ’83 and missed the Warehouse that closed in 1982. I was able to witness his second club, the Power Plant. Frankie influences every house DJ that is still currently playing the music. The man knew how to hypnotize the crowd musically. His selections were outstanding. It was like he knew what would be the next perfect song to blend. Knuckles influenced my interest in House music; a music that I still play today and will probably till the day I die.” - Harold Estell, aka DJ Hoss
“Yes, I agree [that Frankie Knuckles is the godfather of house music.] It is called house music because it was named after the music that Frankie played at The Ware-house. He was the first to introduce an NY-influenced electro dance style of music mixed with disco here in Chicago (that he and Larry Levan had been playing in NY clubs) which transformed into a more home-grown Chicago sound once local Chicago artists started remixing and recreating their own versions of those songs which would became hits at the Warehouse. Frankie influenced me in the way he programmed his sound and remixed songs live. It seemed that he had his own unique version of every song that no one else had. He was already considered The Godfather and a legend when I first heard him, and to hear the music and see people screaming and crying on the dance floor only drew me in and fascinated me to want to touch people that way through music. To this day, I’m always looking for a different version or a remix of songs that no one has ever heard before, and that comes from Frankie.” – DJ Mark Flava
“[Frankie Knuckles] didn't necessarily create "House Music,” but at the time, he was influential enough in the Chicago scene to give it a push in the mainstream direction. He was one of many producers and DJs who pushed the genre into what it is today. Did he influence me? Of course he did. Even for guys like me that started out as house DJs and branched off into other genres. I met him a few times at various events... Chicago and Miami... He was a genuine guy who lived his passion. That passion rubs off on others... Did we lose a legend today? Yes... But, I think he was proud that a small genre of music has grown to such an encompassing musical spectrum.” – Tony Aldarondo, aka DJ Crickett (retired), current marketing professional
“He is a house DJ that can adapt to change. He has been around since the ‘70s in Chicago amongst mostly African American crowds and has spun house in New York in mostly European American crowds. That's a beautiful thing. How a change of vocals (more soulful in Chicago) can be transformed to more “commercial" sounding vocals over the same beat and create the same response. Being on the east coast, there is good house, but there is nothing like hearing the soulful house sounds you are used to growing up with [here in Chicago.]” – Marvin Curry, teacher
“Frankie Knuckles is where it all started from. By starting The Warehouse, Frankie laid down a foundation for House Music and gave it a home. Along with that, his strong music production set a standard and paved a way for the rest of us DJs and producers. Frankie influenced me in many ways. I would listen to his DJ mixes on WBMX and be blown away. Quality mixing and great music selection. As a producer/remixer, Frankie was top notch. On top of winning a Grammy, there are countless songs he created and remixed that DJs all over the globe still play to this day. But most of all, Frankie was a man of good character and positivity. I always felt he was sincere and genuine when we spoke. There are not too many people like Frankie. He will be greatly missed.” - Légo Rodriguez, Producer/Remixer/DJ
Watch a 2004 Artbeat special about SummerDance Festival in Chicago featuring Knuckles:
What are your thoughts about Knuckles' influence on Chicago house music? Share your comments below.