Frankie Knuckles brought a Chicago sound to the world

A pioneering legend of Chicago house music has died.

Here’s a short excerpt from Greg Kot’s excellent obituary in the Chicago Tribune:

Frankie Knuckles, who died Monday at age 59 in Chicago, was not just the “godfather” of Chicago house music. He was a pioneer in the way he cultivated a culture, a sound and a community around dance music that decades later encompasses the world.

Now DJs such as Skrillex, Tiesto, Deadmau5 and Afrojack can fill stadiums internationally as part of the EDM (or electronic dance music) movement. Whether they know it or not, they all owe a debt to Knuckles, the DJ who essentially launched their scene in the late ’70s from the Warehouse, a narrow club on Jefferson Street that was a sanctuary for Chicago’s gay community.

Knuckles’ sets weaved together deep R&B, soul, gospel and club favorites by artists such as First Choice, Candido and Shirley Horn with British new wave and synth pop from New Order, the Human League and Depeche Mode. Sometimes he’d top off his mixes with snippets of speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and other ministers. He would extend soul and R&B records and turn them into dance tracks, introduce new singles being produced by fledgling house artists and incorporate drum machines to emphasize the beat. In addition to building dynamic ebb-and-flow sets that would keep his dance floor filled from midnight to noon on weekends, he would create theater-of-the-mind scenarios with inventive sound and lighting. “Sometimes I’d shut down all the lights and set up a record where it would sound like a speeding train was about to crash into the club. People would lose their minds,” Knuckles told the Tribune.

In 1986, Chicago-based filmmaker Phil Ranstrom attended the opening of Knuckles’ club the Power House. The tape sat virtually unseen in his archive until yesterday. Enjoy being one of the first in nearly 30 years to watch his short doc capturing one of the legends of a true Chicago sound.


We had a great time connecting with artists and organizations from around the city at the Creative Chicago Expo March 14-15. More than 9,500 people attended this vibrant event at the Chicago Cultural Center. If you couldn’t make it, keynotes by Theaster Gates, Maria Pinto, Carrie Nahabedian, and Robert Teitel are now streaming thanks to CAN-TV.

Sara Chapman at Creative Chicago Expo

Photo courtesy Claire Demos.

 

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