Frankie Knuckles was born Francis Nicholls in The Bronx in 1955. The gritty, working class borough of New York where he grew up, was filled with crime and poverty. Hard times had descended on the streets where he played and all around him, buildings burned and racial tension hung in the air. He worked hard, avoided gang culture and went to FIT University to study fashion design. At University his love of soul, gospel, disco and R&B music led him into Djing at his first club located in a revolutionary gay bathhouse called, The Continental Baths. It was the freedom of expression which the gay scene promoted, that helped shape and define Frankie Knuckles and with it, the classic house music genre. He left New York in 1977, the year that Elvis died and went to Chicago where he became music director at the iconic Wharehouse Club, the birthplace and cradle of House music that famously lent its name to the genre. For Frankie Knuckles, it was always about the music, smooth vocals, and the love that came from the floor – nothing else. When the owners of The Wharehouse began to commercialise the club, Knuckles left because he felt it was not about the music anymore – it was about the money, something he feared would harm the child he was nurturing. It was a noble flame that he protected, right up to his untimely death yesterday in his beloved, windy city of Chicago.
As a student of art and design, Knuckles brought a creative influence to bear on his music. He was one of the first DJ’s to use drum machines and lighting to emphasis the beat, effect and atmosphere of his music. When he first arrived in Chicago and began his iconic residency at The Wharehouse, Disco was hated by a mass homophobic and racist movement, that burned records and banned the playing of music in clubs. To ensure that the music he loved was not destroyed, he started to experiment with it, extending its mix, adding electronic elements, samples and fresh influences that would create a new genre – House Music was born and Frankie Knuckles had pioneered it. He became known as simply, The Godfather. For that is what he was, a person who loved the simple things in life, love, family, friends, music, a place to call home and put food on the table. It was this love of simplicity that endeared Frankie Knuckles to Ibiza, an island he described as a place where it always felt like “coming home”. The home that he loved the most in Ibiza was Pacha, a club that he felt was “hands down the best club in the world” as he loved the family atmosphere and soul it nurtured.
When Frankie Knuckles came to Ibiza he would stay with Judy Weinstine, the creator of the classic Def Mix label, at her house in Dalt Villa overlooking the Mediterranean sea. He would visit the local restaurants and immerse himself in the open air, friendly and cosmopolitan culture of La Marina. Knuckles loved Ibiza and its people, “I find myself playing for more island locals which I absolute adore. Tourists will come and go all season but its the locals whose respect I savoir. Its like being welcomed into any community when you are welcomed you can make yourself at home”. Ibiza will always welcome people like Frankie Knuckles as he understood family values and that it should always be about the music – nothing else. The island has lost a good friend and should now strive to protect his legacy. Frankie Knuckles never courted fame or publicity, he quietly went about doing his own thing, which was playing and promoting quality, vocal led music that was classic house. He disliked politics. Right up to his death, Frankie Knuckles never sold out on what he truly believed in and that will be his legacy. For Frankie Knuckles it was always about the music and House Music has lost its Godfather. For people of my generation he was more than just a DJ……he was a King. May he rest in peace.
A classic Frankie Knuckles set recorded in September 2000 at his Def Mix residency in Pacha can be heard here