He’s universally credited as a pioneer of dance music and was famously crowned “The Godfather of House Music” for his role in creating modern dance music’s global DJ culture. But ask Frankie Knuckles about his tenure in Chicago at the groundbreaking nightclub The Warehouse in the 1980s or his friendship with legendary Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan and Knuckles will likely reply by flashing a polite smile and changing the subject. Complimenting Knuckles for his 1997 Grammy Award for Remixer of the Year or his work with mainstream pop and R&B superstars such as the Diana Ross, The Pet Shop Boys and what will likely only get you a blush and a polite “thank you.” Don’t take it personal, though; Frankie Knuckles isn’t one to dwell on the past.
If he were less humble, he could regale you with tales of his days as an up-and-coming turntable talent. He could tell you about life growing up on the mean streets of 1970s Harlem. The thought of a career behind the turntables wasn’t even a part of the adolescent Knuckles’ consciousness. All of that changed, however, when Knuckles and his partner-in-crime Levan snuck into a party at the historic nightspot The Loft. There, the club’s resident DJ David Mancuso seduced Knuckles with his music and his destiny of a lifetime on the decks was cemented.
But it wasn’t until Knuckles journeyed to Chicago to helm the decks of a burgeoning nightclub called The Warehouse that his stardom rose to heights never before witnessed by a DJ. Packing the club week after week, thousands of revelers bowed down to Knuckles and his one-of-a-kind turntable wizardry. And following the closure of The Warehouse in 1983 Knuckles supercharged his career throughout the 1990s with a string of DJ residencies at some of the world’s most famous clubs. His triumphant return to the tables of New York City at the still-revered Sound Factory was later matched with equally lauded (and ongoing) mainstays at NYC Splash, Montreal’s Club Stereo and Pacha in Ibiza.
In 1987 Knuckles joined NYC based Def Mix Productions. With assistance from long time manager Judy Weinstein, Knuckles took his love for playing music and translated it into a career making music. With a gargantuan list of remixes and original productions to his credit with artists and celebrities such as Diana Ross, The Pet Shop Boys, Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and Toni Braxton, and many others. Knuckles quickly became a go-to for mainstream artists seeking to infuse the undeniable drumbeat of house music into their sound. Knuckles’ high profile in the realm of dance music brought him to the attention of Virgin Records in the 1990s, where Knuckles delivered the pop crossover single “Whistle Song” and a pair of albums (Beyond the Mix and Welcome to the Real World).
It was an honor echoed more recently when the Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley officially declared August 26, 2004 “Frankie Knuckles Day” in the DJ’s adoptive hometown of Chicago. President Barack Obama, was responsible for walking through the ordinance to a vote that changed the name of the street where the legendary Warehouse once stood to “Frankie Knuckles Way” Emerging from his studio in 2004 with A New Reality, his first album of completely original material in seven years, Knuckles proved that he hasn’t skipped a beat. The CD’s warmly complex songs resonated with dancers around the world, and gave Knuckles his latest Billboard Number One with “Back n da Day.” But that’s all in the past—a past Knuckles doesn’t have time to worry about today.