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The House that Frankie Knuckles built

Shut yo’ mouth! The Library of Congress has selected Isaac Hayes’s classic theme song from the 1975 movie “Shaft” as one of this years 25 recordings to be preserved in its National Recording Registry. Others include the 1932 recordings of “Brother can you spare a dime” by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee, “A Night at Birdland” (Vols. 1 and 2)  from 1954 and the presidential recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson from Nov. 22, 1963 to Jan. 10, 1969.

“These recordings represent an important part of America’s culture and history,” said  Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “As technology continually changes and formats become obsolete, we must ensure that our nation’s aural legacy is protected. The National Recording Registry is at the core of this effort.”

Recordings were nominated by the public and the National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB). Then, with the advice of the NRPB, Billington makes his selections. There are now 400 recordings that are at least 10 years old and meet the criteria of being  “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Nominations for next year’s batch are already being gathered at the NRPB Web site  ( And one person who must be nominated is music legend Frankie Knuckles.

Knuckles, known as the “Godfather of House” music, died Monday at his home in Chicago reportedly from complications related to Type II diabetes. He was 59 years old. House music takes its name from the Warehouse, the long-gone Chicago club where Knuckles invented the dance genre in the late 1980s that is still rocking dance floors around the world today. The street where the club once stood was renamed Honorary Frankie Knuckles Way in 2004.

Knuckles’s career gives the NRPB plenty of material to work with. “Tears” (1989) and “The Whistle Song” (1991) are especially important. These tracts and others help mark the musical change from disco to the thumping dance music of today.

Michelangelo Matos of Rolling Stone sums up the importance of Knuckles in his opening paragraph of the legendary Bronx-born deejay’s obituary.

Nobody can agree on who invented the blues or birthed rock & roll, but there is no question that house music came from Frankie Knuckles….One of the Eighties and Nineties’ most prolific house music producers and remixers, Knuckles is, hands down, one of the dozen most important DJs of all time. At his Chicago clubs the Warehouse (1977-82) and Power Plant (1983-85), Knuckles’ marathon sets, typically featuring his own extended edits of a wide selection of tracks from disco to post-punk, R&B to synth-heavy Eurodisco, laid the groundwork for electronic dance music culture—all of it.

The National Public Radio obituary noted that “By the mid-1990s, house music was so mainstream that a song by Frankie Knuckles was played in a commercial for Lipton Iced Tea.” The New York Times remembrance highlighted the Grammy he won in 1998 for nonclassical remixer of the year. And the Chicago Tribune obit pointed out that Knuckles would build “dynamic ebb-and-flow sets that would keep his dancefloor filled from midnight to noon on weekends.”

That same Tribune tribute unearthed a great quote from a previous interview with Knuckles.

“God has a place on the dancefloor,” he once told the Tribune. “We wouldn’t have all the things we have if it wasn’t for God. We wouldn’t have the one thing that keeps us sane – music. It’s the one thing that calms people down … I think dancing is one of the best things anyone can do for themselves. And it doesn’t cost anything.”

Hearing the news yesterday of Knuckles’s passing hit me in a most personal way. He spawned a music genre that was the soundtrack of my life as I moved from college student in Minnesota in the late 1980s to young adult starting his career in Manhattan in the early 1990s. So, I look forward to the entry of a Frankie Knuckles mix or two in the National Recording Registry one year soon. He deserves it.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj