For anyone that has listened to any contemporary electronic dance music since
the early 1980’s until now (whether good, bad or neutral), you can almost certainly thank
Frankie Knuckles for developing the original sound of house music that has influenced
thousands of DJ’s worldwide since Knuckles began spinning at the now-defunct
“Warehouse” in Chicago in 1977.
Music scenes across urban centers in the United States during the late-seventies
were dominated by disco: the infamous dance music that popularized the combination
of the 4-on-the-foor beat, novel synthesizers, orchestras, and also saw the rise of singers
and music producers like Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder, respectively. Ironically,
just as disco music was undoubtedly at its highest popularity in parts of the United States,
it was simultaneously despised and attacked the most by a large portion of American
Therefore, disco, starting as an underground scene, then a highly visible
subculture, had to dip once again beneath the surface of the American eye into the
warehouses from whence it came; only this time, with an evolved sound, and Frankie
Knuckles at the forefront.
Knuckles’ residency at the Warehouse in Chicago saw a distinct rebranding of
dance music which lent to heavier, deeper, faster, louder and longer sets from spinning
old disco records and isolating the breaks, while utilizing a new drum machine that
“Knuckles had bought from Derrick May, who regularly made the trip from Detroit
to see Knuckles at the Warehouse…”1.
Here is an example of Knuckles sampling Teddy Pendergrass’ 1977 disco tune, “You Can’t
Hide From Yourself”, into his house-influenced mix in 1986, “You Can’t
With dancers and partygoers from all over Chicago fervent about this new sound,
people began referring to it as house music, a shortened play on the Warehouse. Needless
to say, Knuckles’ sound reverberated across Chicago and the rest of the United States,
leading DJs and producers nationwide to emulate his new and unprecedented style of
Knuckles continued mixing and producing well into the 1990’s, releasing classic house tunes such as
“Rain Falls” and “Move Your Body”, among many others.
Along with being colloquially known as “The Godfather of House Music”, the
city of Chicago paid formal tribute to him in 2004 by naming “a stretch of street after
Knuckles, where the old Warehouse once stood, on Jefferson Street between Jackson
Boulevard and Madison Street”2
After performing nationally and worldwide at many festivals and guest DJ appearances, his health
began to deteriorate. On March 31st “Knuckles passed away of complications related to Type-II
As heartbroken I am that such a legend and pioneer has passed, there is no doubt
in my mind that his music and spirit will live on and continue to influence promising,
young producers and DJs in the future.