Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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News Item

Frankie Knuckles RIP

House music legend Frankie Knuckles has died suddenly, at the age of just 59. Long-time Def Mix partner David Morales confirmed the news via Twitter in the early hours of Tuesday morning (British Standard Time).

No official details have yet been given for the cause of Knuckles’ tragic death it is widely believed that the superstar DJ-producer died because of complications from Type 2 diabetes.

“I am devastated to write that my dear friend Frankie Knuckles has passed away today” Morales tweeted. “Can’t write anymore at the moment, I’m sorry.” Knuckles was, of course, born in the Bronx as Frankie Warren Knuckles Jr, and eventually mentored by Paradise Garage icon Larry Levan. He moved to Chicago in the 1970s, experimenting with the sound of soul, R&B and late disco records by running drum loops beneath their organic grooves.

He made his name, and that of house music, as resident of infamous Chicago club The Warehouse – the fresh-sounding records he played would soon be referred to in local record shops as ‘house’ records, fans eager to acquire the revolutionary new music they had heard on the dancefloor. Knuckles had given birth to a whole new form of music that would, in time, catalyse so many other electronic dance scenes, and the dominant soundtrack of the 21st century.

In 1982, Knuckles had opened seminal Chi-Town club The Power Plant, and started releasing his own records – many of which, like Your Love (the basis for The Source’s subsequent Candi Staton hit "You Got The Love") and "Baby Wants To Ride', would become house music’s earliest hits. In the subsequent years, Knuckles would cement his status as one of the greatest ever international dance DJs, playing all over the world to huge audiences, whilst releasing further hits such as "The Whistle Song", "Tears" (with Robert Owens) and, most recently, "I’ll Take You There" (with Eric Kupper as Director’s Cut). His slick remixes graced everyone from Janet Jackson and Mary J Blige to Hercules And Love Affair and Art Department. His classic, piano-smooth work alongside Morales, Satoshi Tomiie and Hector Romero defined the soul-house landscape of the 1990s and provided a meaningful platform from which others could dive into new explorations of 4-4 sound.

Pete Tong tweeted earlier: “RIP gentleman genius, groundbreaker, inspiration. Blessed to have worked with you” whilst fellow club grandee Roger Sanchez commented: “I can’t begin to count the ways he influenced me but I will never forget.” Other artists, across a broader sweep of the music industry, have also been paying tribute - everyone from The Charlatans' Tim Burgess to Chic's Nile Rodgers. Beyond music's borders, there have even been tributes from politicians including Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna - a house music fan.

Knuckles developed diabetes in the mid-Noughties having already contracted bone disease osteomyelitis after breaking a number of bones in his right foot whilst snowboarding in Swizterland 11 years ago. He continued to DJ against media advice and in July 2008 had to have his foot amputated.

As Knuckles' local newspaper the Chicago Tribune comments: "He [Knuckles] 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 dance floor was a safe haven for the gay, African-American and Hispanic communities that first embraced him”.

Knuckles was a true musical pioneer and his influence, both culturally and sonically, will live on forever. Mr Frankie Knuckles, Godfather of House, RIP. Funeral and memorial service arrangements are yet to be confirmed.

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