MUSIC: Why Frankie Knuckles Matters and You Should Sign This Petition Today



Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recognized Frankie Knuckles as one of the city’s “most treasured cultural pioneers” in a statement earlier this week while social media tributes, dance floor dedications and parties in his honor intensify following the Grammy-winning DJ’s death at 59. An amputee and diabetic faced with long-term health problems, Knuckles traveled extensively and kept doing what he loved as an internationally respected mentor, producer, remixer and veteran on the decks.

“Over his long career Frankie made his way into the ranks of those artists and innovators who came to this city not just to contribute to a musical genre, but to create one themselves,” Emanuel said of the New Yorker who moved to the Windy City upon accepting a residency at The Warehouse in 1977 and later opened his own nightclub, The Power Plant, in the ’80s.

“In doing so,” Emanuel continued, “he also made his way into the hearts of those who knew him and the many more who followed his work.” Just a week prior to his passing, Knuckles celebrated with friends and fans at Miami’s 29th annual Winter Music Conference (lately overshadowed by its harder-edged EDM offshoot, Ultra Music Festival), then flew to the U.K. for what would be his final Ministry of Sound appearance. Often on a full schedule, he’d started to slow down according to those close to him, but he was set for more studio work and gigs such as this summer’s Amsterdam festival, A Day at the Park.


Today, I signed the petition to get the “Godfather of House music” on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. The list has already surpassed 10,000 signatures, but needs about 1,300 the last time checked. I appreciate the depth of what Knuckles’ embodied and why his influence has prevailed over the decades. My comments on the site reflect just an inkling of emotion expressed for this talented figure who shared his passion for music which crossed generations, sexual preferences, economics, ethnicity and faith.

Knuckles’ remix of First Choices’ Let No Man Put Asunder (released on Salsoul Records) signaled a seismic shift happening in the burgeoning electronic music scene of the day. House music would serve as the salve for a maligned disco era publicly shamed during 1979’s infamous record bashing at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Though the new sound didn’t take over the U.S. initially, House music erupted like wildfire abroad during the late 80s and 90s to spawn today’s multibillion-dollar dance industry filling stadiums and beachfronts around the world.

House music remains the great equalizer as it embraces the disenfranchised and permeates all walks of life (Questlove and The Roots crew recently paid homage on The Tonight Show). I got choked up when close friends and legendary DJs gathered Wednesday night for Louie Vega and Kevin Hedge’s long-running Roots party at Cielo in Manhattan in tribute. Most touching was a poignant David Morales who poured out his heart explaining what it meant to lose someone as special as Knuckles. “Frankie was a class act,” Morales told us before elevating the hushed room with Knuckles’ classic remix, Pressure, by the Sounds of Blackness, and a string of deeper-tinged grooves.

Loss can have a profound ripple effect on society as we try to grasp what happened and what comes next (April 4 marks the 46th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. This weekend also marks 20 years since the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide at his Seattle home on April 5). Even New York’s famed megaclub, Roseland Ballroom, will shutter after Lady Gaga’s sold-out shows end on April 7.


I am not a DJ or a music industry exec, but House music is deeply engrained in my soul. So yes, “I remember House before it was called House … when House respected House. I remember House when House was soul music and R&B, before House was disco … before the super clubs, before record labels sold the House (Palmer Brown preached on Blaze’s original track). I remember House when House was about love.”

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Perhaps, it took Knuckles’ death to get people talking about the real foundations of this powerful music and subsequent genres flourishing now. With a range from soulful and reflective to provocative and frenetic, Francis Nicholls inherently knew he was a master of his craft long before mainstream caught on to what was felt instinctively at all-night marathon sets that gave Chicago’s black and Latino gay community sanctuary back in the day.

In an interview with The Chicago Tribune, Knuckles told the newspaper that music “is the one thing that keeps us sane … the one thing that calms people down. Even when they’re hopping up and down in a frenzy on the dance floor, it still has their spirits calm because they’re concentrating on having a good time, loving the music, as opposed to thinking about something negative.”

NPR’s Barry Walters reflects on Knuckles’ career and the dynamics of race, spirituality and societal influences in his April 2 article, which also praises The Whistle Song. Walters writes: “Like a lot of deep house, it’s simultaneously sad and joyous, as if it’s so full of emotion that it seeps out every which way.”


Sign the petition:

‘Five Defining Tracks’ by Frankie Knuckles:

Petition for DJ Larry Levan:

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