Remembering The Godfather Of House


Even if you had the briefest of clues about club music, the name Frankie Knuckles would probably still jump out. Dubbed the ‘Godfather Of House’, Bronx-born Francis Nicholls was an individual whose musical focus was not only the linchpin for endless amounts of material we share today, but allowed him to break free from the crime scored streets of inner-city New York, CRAIG HOLLYWOOD writes. 

The fact that Frankie once walked along 59th Street alongside soul music divinity Luther Vandross – both on their way to NYC’s High School Of Art & Design and the Manhattan School Of Music respectively – was always pointing towards something special. However it was to be another relationship that would kick-start Frankie’s ascension to the upper echelons of musical greatness.

In 1971, around the time when Knuckles played his first DJ set at the now defunct 49th Street club Better Days, he was asked by long time friend DJ/producer/demigod Larry Levan to help out at Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in the basement of New York’s Ansonia Hotel. It was here where Knuckles cut his teeth, filling in for Levan during toilet breaks. Fast forward five years and Frankie, having now established himself as a club resident, found himself with a decision as to where he wanted to take his role as prominent New York disco DJ.

It was around this time that Knuckles was handed the opportunity which would sign his name into to the history books of dance music forever. Having formed a friendship with a juvenile counsellor and businessman by the name of Robert Williams, a man who reportedly bailed both Knuckles and Levan out of a South Bronx juvenile camp at the age of 16 after they were caught stealing donuts from a pastry truck, Knuckles was asked by Williams to move to Chicago to set up The Warehouse.

Based on New York City’s The Loft, a space that was the location for Love Saves The Day – the first underground dance party organised by David Mancuso in 1970 – The Warehouse opened its doors. Three stories high with a DJ booth constructed on a loading dock, The Warehouse had an initial policy that catered only for members. If somebody wanted to be a member they had to be sponsored by five others who were part of the organisation. People still note that this was the main instigator for the club’s success. A club whose name is the sole reason for house music being tagged as it is today.

Production and editing was the next phase in the career of Frankie Knuckles, having gone on to create seminal dance releases such as You Can’t Hide, Rain Falls, Your Love, Baby Wants To Ride (partnered with Chicago artist Jamie Principle) and The Whistle Song. He added to this a list of remixes for the likes of Fingers Inc., Marshall Jefferson, Joe Smooth and Chip E, who are still relevant to any dance floor today.

Having returned to New York after taking the Chicago scene as far he personally felt he could, Knuckles set up the Def Mix production company alongside David Morales and manager Judy Weinstein.

In 2004, during a period where the city of Chicago named August 25 as Frankie Knuckles Day, a stretch of road near The Warehouse once stood was named Frankie Knuckles Way. This was an action personally championed at the time by an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama, who would later go on to be his country’s first African American president.

Frankie Knuckles passed away as a result of Type II diabetes-related complications in Chicago on March 31 at the age of 59. His contribution to music will never be forgotten.