Nile Rodgers and Pete Tong pay their respects to 'Godfather of House' Frankie Knuckles
The Grammy-winning DJ pioneered the Chicago dance music sound, which revolutionised club culture in the 80s
Musicians paid tribute to Frankie Knuckles, the producer hailed as the “Godfather of Chicago House music”, who has died, aged 59.
The Grammy-winning DJ pioneered the Chicago dance music sound, which revolutionised club culture in the 80s and became the preeminent influence on mainstream pop.
Knuckles reportedly died due to complications related to Type II Diabetes, having developed the disease during the mid-2000s.
One of the leading figures in dance music, who worked with Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross and Diana Ross, Knuckles was described as a “friend, colleague and a true pioneer” by Nile Rodgers, the Chic guitarist and Daft Punk collaborator.
David Morales, the American house music DJ and producer, who confirmed the news on Twitter, wrote: “I am devastated to write that my dear friend Frankie Knuckles has passed away today. Can't write any more than this at the moment. I’m sorry.”
Knuckles made his final appearance before his death in Chicago, at London's Ministry of Sound on 29 March. The club described him as “a legendary figure and pioneer of the house music revolution and without whom we wouldn’t exist” in a tweet.
BBC Radio 1's Pete Tong praised a “gentleman genius, groundbreaker, inspiration. Blessed to have worked with you”. Questlove, leader of hip-hop group The Roots, added: “He was the DJ that DJs aspired to be.”
Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Business Secretary and a house music fan, joined the tributes. “Very sad to hear of the death of a house music pioneer and legend, Frankie Knuckles. RIP,” he wrote.
Born Frankie Warren Knuckles Jr in the Bronx, New York City, his biggest “hit” was The Whistle Song in 1991. But Knuckles’ influence was not measured in chart positions – his 1984 track Your Love has been reworked by generations of musicians, providing the blueprint for hits by Candi Staton and Florence and the Machine.
After learning his DJ skills in New York, Knuckles moved to Chicago in the 1970s and pioneered a style of extending soul and R&B records by adding drum machine loops.
Knuckles said in 2011: “I would program different breakbeats and use them as segues between songs and additional beats. I had my own little piece of heaven right there.”
The spartan, electronic tracks were adopted by the gay and Latin American audience who populated the Warehouse club in Northern Chicago, where Knuckles played extended sets.
By the late 80s the Chicago house sound had exploded onto the UK charts and Knuckles became a hugely popular attraction at raves and dance festivals.
He produced the house anthem Tears with Robert Owens and his remixing skills for major stars, seeking to sprinkle underground club credibility on their songs, helped earn him a deal with Virgin Records.
In 2004, Chicago named a street after Knuckles where the old Warehouse once stood, and the then Illinois state senator, Barack Obama, helped to get the city of Chicago to declared 25 August "Frankie Knuckles Day".
Knuckles developed diabetes in the mid-2000s having already contracted the bone disease osteomyelitis after breaking several metatarsals in his right foot while snowboarding in Switzerland, in 2003. Against doctors orders, he continued to DJ and in July 2008, he had his foot amputated.
Paying tribute to Knuckles, the Chicago Tribune wrote: “He championed house music that wasn’t just about rhythm, but that embraced humanism and dignified struggle.
“It was in keeping with his belief that the dancefloor was a safe haven for the gay, African-American and Hispanic communities that first embraced him”.
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