This Week in House Music History: Frankie Knuckles

Jan 19, 2022

Meagen Surowiecki

3 min read

This week in House Music History, a look back and celebration of pioneering artist Frankie Knuckles. Known as the Godfather of House Music, he paved the way for dance music culture. He would have been 67 this week.

The Bronx-born artist studied textile design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. In 1971 began working as a DJ playing soul, disco, and R&B. He was a close friend of Larry Levan, resident at the legendary Paradise Garage. Knuckles soon became a regular at New York's top nightclubs such as Better Days. In 1977 he moved to Chicago when his friend Robert Williams opened the Warehouse.

The Warehouse was a nightlife staple among Chicago’s Gay, Black, and Brown communities. Dancers were free to express themselves with no worry. With Knuckles at the helm as a resident, DJs developed their own style and experimented with house music as it began to emerge from the Chicago underground

He continued DJing there until 1982, when he started his club, The Power Plant. When the business became challenging to manage and failed, he returned to his musical roots in New York. He picked up residencies at The World and The Choice. When Junior Vasquez took over Sunday mornings at The Sound Factory, he recommended Knuckles take over Saturday nights at the infamous Hell’s Kitchen hotspot.

He immersed himself in producing, remixing, and recording and created some of the most iconic house tracks of all time. His earliest remixes include First Choice's "Let No Man Put Asunder" and Jago's "I'm Going To Go.” As house music spread, producer Chip E. took Knuckles under his supervision and helped produce his first recording, "You Can't Hide from Yourself.”  He produced countless releases such as "Baby Wants to Ride" and later, "Tears (feat. Robert Owens)" with Satoshi Tomiie. 

In 1991, Frankie Knuckles released his debut album Beyond the Mix on Virgin Records America. The album contained classic cuts such as “The Whistle Song," "Rain Falls," featuring vocals from Lisa Michaelis, and “Godfather.”

Knuckles was in a period of creative abundance. Some of his biggest remixes came out, including his rework of the Electribe 101 anthem "Talking With Myself" and "Where Love Lives" by Alison Limerick. In 1997, Knuckles won the GRAMMY Award for Remixer of the Year, Non-Classical. 

Knuckles remained part of the underground scene for years to come. He was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005. 

He passed on March 31, 2014, leaving an indelible legacy. Defected Records released a compilation, House Masters Frankie Knuckles, a year later. Knuckles selected the tracklist before he passed away.  In celebration of this titan of dance music, press play on any of his tracks to remember the beautiful life of the Godfather of House Music. 

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