Top and Cover Photo: Gavin Mills
IT WAS EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO that hundreds of people were packed inside SmartBar in anticipation of Frankie Knuckles’ big birthday celebration. On the bill alongside the birthday boy were New York’s legendary David Morales and Louie Vega along with Queen residents Derrick Carter, Michael Serafini and Garrett David. Inaya Day was going to sing, and Ultra Nate had flown in from Atlanta to do a surprise performance.
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It was sweaty, loud and rife with anticipation. Frankie’s parties are legendary for not just the incredible music but for the energy and vibe they carried with it. But by 1am, people knew something was wrong. Frankie had not yet made an appearance and David eventually made the announcement that he was too sick to play.
Now, one year later when Frankie would have turned 60, the situation is markedly different. The initial shock is over, and most people have been lulled into an empty acceptance of the tragedy that fell upon us on March 31st. This time, we are not only celebrating but also reflecting on a man that has given us a million lifetimes worth of musical inspiration. And beyond that, a man who exuded kindness, love and the biggest heart one could ever know.
David Morales met Frankie in the early ’80s via Judy Weinstein, megaforce and mother behind Def Mix, the all-star production company which included Frankie and David. That meeting at her office was the start of what was to become a lifelong friendship.
“Frankie was already a legend when I met him,” David says. “He was the talk of the town when he came back to NY (from Chicago.) It was as if we had been friends for a long time. Frankie was one of the most generous and classy individuals I have met in this business.”
They continued to gig, do remixes and it was with Frankie that David traveled the world and attended the Grammys for the first time.
When asked what he learned most from his “older sister”, he says, “Frankie taught me how to be a better DJ, a better producer, a better dresser – he even taught me about colognes. We were a great team on the road and we spent a lot of time together.”
Once news of Frankie’s passing spread, what was inspiring to see was how both cities that Frankie belonged to – Chicago and New York – each had such unique and inspiring tributes. Within days. David was a catalyst for the East Coast event at Liberty Theater, featuring a powerful closing performance of “The Pressure” by Ann Nesby with the Sounds of Blackness.
“Thank God I had Judy, Danny Madden and the rest of the Def Mix family. All of the artists were very supportive. Me and Judy decided to have a celebration in his name as opposed to a morbid or depressing service. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
He continues, “For me there’s always been a strong connection between New York and Chicago in our community but that brought us together even more. It goes to show that in the world of House Music, we are one.”
TOO MANY TRIBUTES
And with death comes opportunism. It’s hard enough dealing with a loved one’s passing, but as has happened many times before people use a tragedy to propel their own personal agendas.
The Def Mix family put a tight lid on the myriads of Frankie tributes, insisting that permission be granted first and that all proceeds go to Frankie’s favorite charities.
“It’s really funny how people had written Frankie off,” David says. “What I didn’t appreciate was how people that weren’t really close to him started doing tributes on his behalf. To not even invite us nor ask how they can contribute or donate was a sham.” Despite many warnings, endless parties and merchandising were soon flooding the market.
David stresses that the best way to show honor to Frankie’s legacy is by donating in his name to either the American Diabetes Association, New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the newly created Frankie Knuckles Fund, established by Elton John. And along with that, to make good music. To keep his legacy alive by living and dancing whenever they hear a Frankie Knuckles production.
One of the most touching videos from that dark time was when David spoke at Louie Vega’s night at Cielo in New York. “Frankie was a class act,” he said. “He never raised his voice, he never screamed. He never lost his temper…
“It’s really difficult for me to be here. Me and my brother Louie, we were in Chicago for Frankie’s birthday party and did our best to represent, and Frankie told us thank you and that he loved us. I was able to hug him and tell him, ‘I miss you, I love you.’ I’m a grown man, I’m 52 years old, and I’m not afraid to hug and kiss and tell people I love them. Especially another man. He said, ‘David I love you, you are my brother.’
“Frankie was an incredible DJ. To listen to his sets was a journey. The outpouring of love and support is something I would have never thought of in this world. It’s ridiculous how many souls this man has touched around the world. He was the Nelson Mandela of music. Frankie always had a smile for everybody. Always. You never saw him with a frown. Even if he had that natural death stare… all he had to do was look at you and you were like, ‘Okay miss thing!’
“I’m really sorry to see my everything – because I can’t say my brother, my king, my everything in my heart – leave us so soon. It always happens that the best people are taken away from us too soon. His legacy will live on through us. It’s now time to rejoice and celebrate. And I live to celebrate his passing to a better place.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if any of you have ever been touched by this man, you have been blessed. He’s not God, but to us, he is our God.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY FRANKIE
To say the Jan. 18th party will be massive would probably be an understatement. David’s final words? “I expect Frankie to be there in spirit.” Amen.
The Frankie Knuckles birthday party at Smartbar will be on Sunday, Jan. 18th with David Morales, Louie Vega and Tony Humphries along with Queen residents Derrick Carter, Michael Serafini and Garrett David.
David Morales has a new Face record called “Lovin” with Kym Mazelle, a new Red Zone project Vol 2, a new track with Melonie Daniels Walker, a few songs with Ultra Nate, new remixes of Jamie Principle’s “Baby Wants to Ride” and “Boyz” and a whole lot more.