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Tribute: Frankie Knuckles

by Philip Sherburne

Tribute: Frankie Knuckles

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Frankie Knuckles, known the world over as the "Godfather of House," died this week at the age of 59. It is not an exaggeration to say that he is survived by every living person that ever danced to a four-to-the-floor beat. As a DJ, he cut his teeth in New York discotheques like the Gallery and the Continental Baths in the mid-'70s, but it was in Chicago where he would ultimately make his mark. He moved there in 1977 to take a job as the resident DJ at the Warehouse, where his idiosyncratic selections -- classic disco, synth-heavy European imports, electronic funk -- and reel-to-reel edits helped establish the foundations of a new, as-yet-unnamed style of dance music. While the etymology of the term "house music" has never been definitively established, the conventional wisdom pegs it as a shortening of "Warehouse music," the kind that Chicago clubbers routinely requested in local record shops come Monday morning, trying to get their hands on whatever Knuckles had played out over the weekend. Whether the story is true hardly matters, because the term expresses a deeper truth: Without Frankie Knuckles, there would have been no house music as we know it.

By the early 1980s, having moved his residency to the Power Plant nightclub, he was incorporating a drum machine into his sets and playing out eerie, snapping rhythm cuts crafted by a new generation of Chicago musicians. Working with the local singer Jamie Principle, he recorded iconic house tracks like "Baby Wants to Ride" and "Your Love," developing an inimitable touch for space, rhythm and texture that he would continue to develop as a producer and remixer of artists like Lisa Stansfield, Donna Summer and Michael Jackson.

We pay tribute to the Godfather of House with a playlist looking back over his groundbreaking productions and enduring remixes; we close it out with his gospel-leaning "Soon I Will Be Done," a song that has never sounded more moving than it does today.

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