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Frankie Knuckles: 1955-2014

Remembering the Godfather of House

  • Words: Frank Broughton
  • 2 April 2014
Frankie Knuckles: 1955-2014

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of dancefloor history knows that Frankie Knuckles was respectfully dubbed the ‘Godfather of House’. It’s a perfect description of his role: as well as making some of the most sublime records in house music, he raised the genre under his roof and gave it spiritual guidance as it grew. In truth, house had no single creator, but in the fever-pitch mid-80s in Chicago, when clubbers first grabbed hold of the new digital music machines and made tracks for themselves, Frankie (along with his friendly rival, Ron Hardy) was the DJ who steered the energy in the right direction. He inspired Chicago, created an underground there, and showed the city how much creativity was possible for a DJ.

Bronx-born Francis Nicholls entered clubland with his childhood friend Larry Levan. His first job was blowing up balloons and spiking the punch at Nicky Siano’s Gallery. Transplanted to Chicago after a residency at the disco bacchanal of New York’s Continental Baths, his sets of ballsy older disco at the Warehouse ignited this polite midwestern city and gave house music its name. In the early 90s he returned to New York and steered the mighty Sound Factory for a year, followed by a glorious residency at the Roxy and a busy international schedule up to the present day.

‘Godfather’ is apt for the man, too. Softly spoken, thoughtful and courteous, Frankie personified the generous spirit of the dancefloor, the inclusiveness of the generation who came of age during the liberating time of disco. His death, from complications of diabetes, at the implausibly young age of 59, is sad indeed.

I’ll never forget his years at the rococo palace of the Roxy, where he played from dusk till dawn to a swirling, pumping, voguing, catwalking mass of humanity. Or the night he closed with sweeping orchestral disco as a spindly ballet dancer in his sixties pirouetted around the empty dancefloor, utterly lost in Mr Nicholls’ beautiful music.

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