Pour One Out For Frankie Knuckles, Inventor Of House

Frankie Knuckles died yesterday at the age of 59, and if you don’t know the name, you certainly know what he gave the world: house music. Knuckles started Djing in the late 1970s, when dance music meant only disco, but he brought an utterly catholic sensibility to his DJing, and would play anything, remix anything, add a drum machine to anything, as long as it kept people moving.

Though he came from the disco clubs, Knuckles came into his own spinning his own signature style in a club in Chicago he called The Warehouse, which is why, dear readers, we now call it house music. That club is gone now, but the love Chicago had for Frankie never went away, and in 2004 a guy you’ve probably never heard of, this state senator named Barack Obama, helped get August 25 declared Frankie Knuckles Dy in the Windy City.


What did house music sound like? It sounded glorious. It sounded like everything. It kept some of the soaring strings and big vocals of disco, but then Frankie threw anything else he could find at it, chopped it up, turned it around, made it new.

It’s criminal that we don’t have more DJ sets from that time at The Warehouse, but we never knew way back then that we’d want to memorialize a DJ set just like we do a concert.

He went on to make his own tracks and then started getting tapped to do remixes for high-profile artists like Chaka Khan. His remix of “Ain’t Nobody” from 1989 is like a house music manual. Slinky bubbling synths, the ubiquitous piano, Chaka’s voice big and beautiful riding over the mix with the familiar “Ain’t nobody/loves me better” refrain before that vocal snippet gets overdubbed and echoed into something completely familiar and totally different.


If you were a young gay person in the 1980s or early 1990s (raises hand), house music and the clubs that played it were often the way you knew that being gay was going to be OK, that you would always have a place to go, and that it would be filled with everyone: gay kids, straight kids, club kids, black people, white people, disco-loving gays from way back, other DJs hoping to pick up a tip or a new track. Thanks to dance music finally coming into its own as a genre (and, of course, the homosexxicans beginning to take over the world) there are a ton of full Frankie Knuckles sets from that time, and you should probably listen to all of them.

Knuckles slowed down in later years, but was still doing live sets. Today, literally everyone on the internet is posting this Boiler Room set he did last year, and who are we to buck that tide?

He also continued to do remixes, like this almost unbearably good remix of Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” from last year’s Donna Summer tribute record, Love To Love You Donna.

Knuckles had his own official channel/page/whatever the kids call it these days over at Soundcloud, and it is full of things you should probably go listen to right now. Have yourself a little a dance party in your office or your daycare or your car or anywhere in honor of Frankie.

[Rolling Stone]

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  • Jason M

    Goddamnit. I wasn’t gay, but listening to house music growing up in Alabama made it hard for some people to differentiate. I know it’s tacky, but anyone know how he died? This tune is almost too on the nose, but no less apprope: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Opewcd5gKHo

  • Jason M

    When my comments are rejected, I take it too personally. I feel shattered and worthless. “Why?”, I ask the Gods of the Internet, “Why have you forsaken me?” Then I listen to the rest of the Frankie mix of “Rock With You” and wonder how hard it would be to get a good burrito here in Poland and let my anger flow away. Thanks, Frankie.

  • Nixon, etc.

    This is a sad, sad thing.As House was being invented, being formed, its earliest iterations were stark, minimal, and pretty raw. These early efforts on small labels like Trax or DJ International still sound, to this DJ’s ear, as vital and lively as they did in 1986/87. It’s hard to argue with the urgency of this early stuff, it’s like these guys had to get this stuff recorded before this moment passed.Concurrent with this, a small audience of primarily gay black and Latino “kids” in Chicago (and Detroit and NYC, almost immediately) claimed this music as theirs (justifiably, since it was made for them). For these kids, House played a quasi-religious role, offering spiritual transcendence for the believer. At 120 BPM.Frankie Knuckles created some of the era’s most gorgeous and lush tracks. Utilizing intricate piano passages and soaring gospel vocals, he created de facto liturgical music for the young souls he was saving on the dancefloor.Within a year, Detroit would invent Acid House, NYC would invent Deep House, and a thousand other Houses would bloom. We refer to this as the House Nation. But before this, there was the Warehouse in Chicago, which functioned, in a sense, as a church of House, and this is the guy who built it.(Too flowery? Too bad, this ain’t flowery enough. These are TRUE FACTS. This is how this thing happened.) ;0]Good night, old friend.

  • emberglance

    It’s odd that, like a lot of underground American music, house music was HUGE in England, like massively mainstream huge. Also odd that it was mostly thanks to Pete Waterman (of Stock Aitken Waterman infamy) who heard it in the US and brought his own tinny version to the UK charts, starting with Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round in 1985 and from there to Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, etc. etc. Obviously it didn’t have anything like the class of the Chicago originals but it was mainstream pop in the 80s and 90s. Jack Your Body by Steve “Silk” Hurley was #1 for TWO WEEKS in England in 1987. Anyway, respect.

    • Nixon, etc.

      Yeah, it always amazed me that it had chart presence in the UK. The same thing happened with Acid House (but I guess the pump was already primed by the Chicago scene infiltrating Britain). Acieed was an actual cultural “thing” in the UK, while here in the US it never had any impact outside the underground club scene. Historic Tidbit: Genesis P. Orridge (Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV/actual inventor of the original Industrial scene), has long claimed to be the person who single-handedly brought Acid House to the UK. I’ll just leave that stand as written ;0]

      • emberglance

        Dieter Meier from Yello claimed to have invented the entire genre. He was very angry about it.

        • Nixon, etc.

          Wow…awesome. I never heard that li’l morsel before. The anger is a bonus.Maybe his mustache invented it.

          • emberglance

            Yes, I remember him hammering the desk with his fist. He reckoned it all started with The Race.