Frankie Knuckles, dead at 59
Bronx-born Chicago legend and Godfather of House left a legacy
by Wax Poetics
Born in Bronx, New York, on January 18, 1955, Frankie Knuckles (aka Francis Nicholls) frequented all the important New York disco clubs with his running partner Larry Levan. The two were regular patrons at the Sanctuary and the Loft, among others, and ultimately got historic gigs DJing alongside Nicky Siano at the Gallery, as well as the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse whose story is featured in an upcoming Wax Poetics issue.
By 1977, Knuckles had left New York to run Chicago, where he and fellow DJ Ron Hardy used reel-to-reel tape machines to create edits that would turn the underground dance scene upside down, helping to shift to the sound of disco into a more DJ-oriented art that would become house. From ’77 to ’82, Knuckles held it down at the legendary Warehouse, then for the next three years, he took over the Power Plant, where he would influence other DJs and an entire city.
“Frankie was really a turning point in my life,” Detroit techno pioneer Derrick May said in Dan Sicko’s book Techno Rebels. “When I heard him play, and I saw the way people reacted, danced, and sang to the song… This vision of making a moment this euphoric…it changed me.”
May would return the favor, as he gave Knuckles his 909 drum machine and Frankie would go on to produce a string of classic house records that solidified his title as the Godfather of House, such as “Tears,” “The Whistle Song,” “Baby Wants to Ride,” “Rain Falls,” “Workout,” and “Your Love.”
At some point, every important modern DJ has referenced Frankie Knuckles as an influence. His legacy can even be heard in modern pop music, as the basic sounds of house music are now completely mainstream.
Knuckles passed away on Monday, March 31, 2014.
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