Frankie Knuckles, the godfather of Chicago house music, has died. He was 59.
Knuckles began DJing in New York under the guidance of legendary DJ Larry Levan, but moved to Chicago in the late’70s, just as disco was beginning to die. While record labels were hesitant to sign disco artists, Knuckles and company decided that, to keep the scene alive, they’d have to create their own style of music. Knuckles opened two clubs—The Warehouse (1977-82) and Power Plant (1983-87)—where he fostered that style into “Chicago house,” a kind of fusion of synth-disco, indie soul, and rock that got its name from The Warehouse.
While house music was making waves in Chicago’s clubs, Knuckles started recording his own tracks, including “You Can’t Hide,” featuring vocalist Ricky Dillard. Knuckles also produced a number of other singles, including Jamie Principle’s “Baby Wants To Ride,” and Robert Owens’ “Tears.”
After the Power Plant closed, Knuckles hit the international scene, taking residencies at famous clubs like London’s Delirium, and New York’s The Sound Factory. Around that same time, Knuckles teamed up with fellow DJ David Morales to form Def Mix Productions, a company that revolutionized the remix. Rather than messing with a track’s arrangement using existing tape, Def Mix would essentially rebuild the song from the ground up, sometimes even inviting an artist back into the studio to record new vocals. Through Def Mix, Knuckles worked with artists like Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, and Lisa Stansfield. Knuckles also released his own material during that time, including albums like Beyond The Mix that featured tracks like “The Whistle Song.”
Though Knuckles continued to DJ until late in his life, health troubles made his routine more difficult. In 2008, his right foot was amputated due to complications with bone disease and diabetes. Nevertheless, that same year, Knuckles released one of his most successful remixes, a take on Hercules And Love Affair’s “Blind” that some regard as superior to the original.
Knuckles is a member of the Dance Music Hall of Fame, and, in 2004, the Chicago street where The Warehouse once stood was given the honorary name “Frankie Knuckles Way.”