Though he was born and raised in the Bronx, Frankie Knuckles (née Francis Nicholls) called the Windy City home. Known in dance music circles as the Godfather of House Music, the DJ/producer is credited with helping to popularize Chicago house in the wake of disco’s greatly exaggerated demise, paving the way for the genre’s domination of the pop charts in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Cutting his teeth alongside DJ Larry Levan in the ’70s, Knuckles spun regularly at the Warehouse in Chicago, went on to open his own club, the Power Plant, and remix hits by everyone from Michael Jackson to Inner City.
In 2004, the block where the Warehouse once stood was renamed Honorary Frankie Knuckles Way. And with house music enjoying a renaissance of sorts in recent years, one of the genre’s foremost pioneers has similarly experienced a deserved resurgence, commissioned to remix indie dance act Hercules and Love Affair’s “Blind” in 2008, as well as Whitney Houston’s 2009 comeback single “Million Dollar Bill.” Sadly, news hit yesterday that Knuckles died in his adopted hometown at the age of 59. To celebrate his life and legacy, we’re taking a look back at his biggest, most influential works.
10. Dbow, “Get Involved (Director’s Cut Classic House Mix).” Knuckles and French producer Eric Kupper’s nü-disco remix of Dbow’s “Get Involved” showed up in both of Knuckles’s Boiler Room sets last year, and it epitomizes the glossy sheen of his recent “director’s cut” remixes, with basic, well-worn chord progressions he could turn out in his sleep, but that’s sort of the point: house music was part of his DNA.
9. “The Whistle Song.” Enjoying heavy radio rotation in Chicago and New York in 1991, Knuckles’s aptly titled, feel-good club hit “The Whistle Song” is probably the producer’s most recognizable original track, with his signature keyboard riffs complemented by breezy flute, bouncy bass, and a summer-smooth synth line.
8. Chaka Khan with Rufus, “Ain’t Nobody (Frankie Knuckles Remix).” Knuckles helped Chaka Khan hit the top of the dance charts in 1989 with what was essentially a dub remix of her 1983 single “Ain’t Nobody.” Chaka’s original hook makes a cameo, but the real star is Knuckles’s keyboard and bass.
7. Lisa Stansfield, “Change (Knuckles Mix).” Knuckles’s mix of Lisa Stansfield’s “Change” only makes some minor tweaks to the low-key original, namely a bigger bottom, but it’s rightfully become the definitive version of the U.K. songstress’s 1991 hit.
6. Hercules and Love Affair, “Blind (Frankie Knuckles Mix).” DFA Records’ Jonathan Galkin reportedly thought hiring a veteran like Knuckles to remix the lead single from Hercules and Love Affair’s debut was “a huge risk,” but it was one that certainly paid off.