Frankie Knuckles

[Earlier: Breaking: Frankie Knuckles Has Passed Away]

Where do you begin the story of the man who began it all? The man who began it for you?

Should I start at the beginning – the literal beginning, the first three words of the House Music Bible as far as we’re concerned – when Frankie Knuckles met Larry Levan as kids in New York?

(Visit our complete archive of Frankie Knuckles tracks, interviews, reviews and DJ mixes.)

Should I start in Chicago, where Frankie Knuckles teamed with Robert Williams, Frederick Dunson, Judge and the others who sketched out the template of this scene before many of us were born?

How about back in New York, again, on West 21st Street, when a new generation – my generation, of people my age – were turned on at Frankie Knuckles’ third seminal residency, this time at the Sound Factory Bar?

You can crib all that from Wikipedia. Surely many will.

So should I begin with myself – the first time I shook his hand, trembling like a groupie or a teenager? Or the dozen or so nights which ended to “The Whistle Song”?

I don’t know where to begin, and I can’t believe it’s ended. There has not been a single moment in my life that I contemplated a world in which Frankie Knuckles was not present. He never retired. When health issues forced him on hiatus, we knew he would be back, because nobody else could imagine a world without Frankie Knuckles either.

When he went away to residencies in exotic places, he always came home, to Chicago, to his adopted home. This city hasn’t always been pleasant to its geniuses but I hope Frankie knew that we loved him.


Every one of us in this scene was a part of Frankie Knuckles’s dance floor. This entire scene was Frankie’s dance floor.

Do you understand that? If he didn’t play for you, he played for the people that played for you. Daft Punk famously gave props to their “Teachers”. Frankie Knuckles taught the teachers, inspired the dreamers, and despite four decades in the industry, he didn’t have a hateful bone in his body.

You are not going to read a bad word about Frankie Knuckles tonight. Not tonight, not tomorrow, and not in the coming years. You may attribute this to the sanctity people have for the recently departed, but that’s wrong. It’s who he was – genuinely. It’s what I’m going to remember most.

No one was asked more often about the origins of House Music than Frankie. No one answered more questions about it, either. Can you imagine how many times he was asked the same things, in front of documentary cameras or by young reporters nervously shuffling through their notes? You’ll never find footage of Frankie losing his temper over this. It doesn’t exist.

John Updike once wrote that “fame is a mask you can’t take off.” I’ve asked countless people about how they deal with fame and success, but I never asked Frankie, because he wore it so well.

Everyone else could be corrupted, deformed, turned inside out. Frankie was Frankie. He traveled the entire world, and was a part of a very small group that showed us what dance music was supposed to be about. And every party, every set, was an extension of that lesson.

But in Chicago he was Frankie. Just Frankie.

Frankie Knuckles taught the world a great many things but I hope people remember how he taught professionals how to act, artists how to behave, DJs how to be grateful.

How many photographs have you seen of Frankie Knuckles when he wasn’t smiling?

* * *

Frankie embraced us at 5 Magazine, and he didn’t have to. Frankie really didn’t need to support anyone – I mean that his career was far beyond the point where anyone else could make it or break it – but he did.

My partner Czarina conducted many interviews with Frankie – maybe more than anyone, at least in the last 9 years. But our first interview – in the 3rd issue of 5 Magazine, back in November 2005 – was conducted by Doug Brandt. Doug was aware of how many times Frankie had been asked the same questions about the same things. He told us he wanted to to do a different kind of interview, this one about “Frankie Knuckles: The Man”. And it began with maybe the most fundamental question of all:

Who is Frankie Knuckles?, Doug asked.

“Someone familiar,” Frankie said. “Someone you’ve always recognized. That guy who you always see either on the bus or train to work but never speak to. Someone who thinks a lot like you and shares all the same dreams and aspirations that you do. That guy you’ve looked at a thousand times and said to yourself, ‘I know this guy, but where from?'”

Time builds up some legends and knocks others down. Many years from now, regardless of what they say about his music – and I think they won’t be able to say enough about the music – people are still going to remember Frankie Knuckles, not just for what he did but for how he did it.

Terry Matthew is the Managing Editor of 5 Magazine.


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