A pause to remember ‘The Godfather,’ Frankie Knuckles


DJ Frankie Knuckles plays at the Def Mix 20th Anniversary Weekender at Turnmills nightclub on May 6, 2007 in London, England. (Photo by Claire Greenway/Getty Images)

For a time, DJ Frankie Knuckles was the epitome of gay black cool.

His never-ending sets molded Chicago’s Warehouse into a destination and a place of refuge where you could be yourself, much like Washington’s own Bachelor’s Mill, and he made house music one of Chicago’s most beloved cultural exports. 

Wrote Gawker’s Rick Juzwiak in an emotional tribute to Knuckles, who died Monday at age 59 from diabetes-related complications:

Today, plenty of people listen to house music (whether via EDM or otherwise) without recognizing its roots as gay black music for gay black people. But that is what it is, and that it came to prominence at a time in which the gay community was being ravaged by AIDS, is a triumph. It’s but one of several examples of the gays knowing something it would take years for the rest of the world to discover. And it might not have happened without Frankie Knuckles, certainly not in the way it did. He was one of the handful of people who’ve been on this earth that we could point to and say, “There. That man changed culture.”

The “Godfather of House” was the subject of one of the rare “Absolutely Fabulous” episodes that featured Kate O’Mara as Patsy Stone’s brilliantly cutting sister. Patsy and Edina, ever the social climbers, were thrilled to have accomplished a social-climbing coup: they’d gotten into Knuckles’s New Year’s Eve dance party. O’Mara also died earlier this week at age 74.

Edina Monsoon, completely wasted and festooned in a deliciously tacky zebra-print fur coat, proclaimed: “Patsy’s got a connection that can get us into the hippest club in the universe! Darling, this club’s so hip, it isn’t even a club! Goodbye megatropolis ambient house darling with red Indian jungle synth junk … hello, Frankie Knuckles CD Rom Dance happenin,’ darling! Forget your Es and your LSDs. There’s a whole alphabet of leisure drugs available!”

The Roots honored Knuckles on Tuesday on the “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” by playing “The Whistle Song.” It was probably his most well-known song; it was his first single, and it eventually found its way into a Lipton tea commercial.

Questlove chided celebrity gossip site “Just Jared” in his Instagram feed when he discovered the site had inadvertently killed off the wrong man. The picture accompanying “Just Jared’s” item was a photograph of The Roots percussionist Frank Knuckles, who took the inspiration for his name from the late house DJ. He wrote in the caption:

Dear @JustJared I can easily see how this is a mixup occurred (blame Dangelo for this nom de plum) but THIS @frankknuckles from The Tonight Show is NOT the 59 year old House Music pioneer. #FactCheckTheLittleGuysYall #WeirdAprilFoolsGag? #TheManInventedHouseMusicComeOnNah #RipFrankieKnuckles #LiveLongAndProsperFrankKnuckles #SiNceWEFuNninWIthHaShTAgsYoUShouldNoteTwoOtherRootsAreNamedAfterNotableCelebsToo #CaptKirkDouglasIsNotThatCapnKirk #TubaGoodiNgJRsPopDidNOTSingEverybodyPlaysTheFool #ThisIsWhyIHaveAQuestionMarkInMyName #OkImDone

For more, check out Michaelangelo Matos’ remembrance in “Rolling Stone.”

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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