Obit of the Day: The Godfather of House
Francis Nicholls and his friend Larry Philpot spent many late nights wandering from club to club in New York City in the 1970s. The teenagers were not only searching for the best music but were honing skills as DJs. By the end of the decade the duo, who now called themselves Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levant were two of the best in the business.
In 1977, at the height of disco, Mr. Knuckles headed for Chicago while his friend stayed in New York. Finding a job at the Warehouse, a membership-only club serving the gay community in the South Loop, Mr. Knuckles experiemented with mixes of soul, R&B, disco and gospel while overlaying distinct rhythms from a drum machine. The style was dubbed “house music” and it quickly made him one of the most popular DJs in the U.S.
As disco died - helped along by Chicago radio host Steve Dahl’s infamous Disco Demolition Night - record producers looked for new dance music. Mr, Knuckles provided that next wave of sound that would fill the clubs of Chicago, New York, and Paris and eventually influence electronic dance artists including Skrillex, Deadmau5, and Afrojack.
Leaving the Warehouse in 1982, Mr. Knuckles began laying mixes at the Power Plant where his following only grew. He also began re-mixing popular hits, which some have considered “better than the originals,” including songs by Whitney Houston, Depeche Mode, Michael Jackson, and Hercules & Love Affair.
As his talents were more widely recognized Mr. Knuckles traveled to London, Rome, and other far-flung locations playing music of his own or the dynamic re-mixes of others. Even into his 50s, his work as a DJ remained his first love.
In 1998, Frankie Knuckles eared the first-ever Grammy for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical. The city of Chicago renamed the stretch of Jefferson Street where the Warehouse stood as Frankie Knuckles Way in 2004 after a push by then-state senator Barack Obama. And Mr. Knuckles was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
Frankie Knuckles, whose influence on music was compared to that of James Brown and Chuck Berry by critics, died on March 31, 2014 at the age of 59.
(Frankie Knuckles re-mix of “Rock With You” by Michael Jackson provided through SoundCloud user Fabio Salvati.)
Also on Obit of the Day:
DJ Mehdi - French DJ who died at 34
Romanthony - Vocal artist on Daft Punk’s “One More Time”