On Monday, one of the most influential djs and producers of our time passed away. Frankie Knuckles was born in the Bronx before moving to Chicago with childhood friend Larry Levan. With Disco on it’s way out, Knuckles broke new ground spinning R&B tunes backed up with drum machine loops. This was the groundwork that led to House music, and he was able to hone his craft at clubs like The Warehouse, The Music Box and The Power Plant.
His soundscapes created a new vibe and subsequent scene that caught fire quickly, firstly in a mainly gay Black and Latino subculture, but it kept growing from city to city, eventually going international, and House music was born. But Knuckles wasn’t just some unseen force of nature; he was also a person with one of the brightest smiles you’ve ever seen. It’s kind of telling how he described himself on his Twitter profile – Man of music, citizen of the universe, friend to everyone, enemy to none. It was not only his music – but his love for music that filled so many lives with joy, and even if it was for some a very brief moment in time, it’s a moment that most people will always remember, often quite vividly.
The following is an unedited Facebook post from Toronto area DJ Mitch Winthrop. It describes a brief but memorable encounter with Knuckles in NYC at a club called the Red Zone.
“remembering… the New Music Seminar in New York. I think it was 1990. at the Red Zone for Def Mix’s night with David Morales and Frankie Knuckles DJing. hanging at the bar waiting for the next of many live acts that night to perform. there was a vogueing show going on stage if I recall as well. Frankie half-nelsons me from behind to say hello. I wasn’t even sure if he remembered me. we didn’t know each other that well. I just picked him up at the airport once when he came to Toronto for a gig about a year before, so it felt like I had arrived in this scene when he did that. we chatted a bit. then he left. after the vogueing ended the club got dark. (man, I loved the Red Zone!) then a kick drum rang out on the system (the Red Zone had a great sound system, I don’t care what any purists say… it sounded great in there). a bassline joined it. a spotlight lit up a grand piano on stage. there was a woman humming into a mic… and then I saw Satoshi Tomiie walk on stage, sit down and start playing the piano. it was beautiful. it went on for a while… until Robert Owens joined them. it became “Tears”. the crowd, must’ve been a couple thousand maybe, I don’t know how much that club held, but it was a big club even by New York’s standards, the crowd went nuts, cheering, hands in the air…. many singing along. eventually the music petered out back to just the beats, the bassline and Satoshi playing the grand piano… and suddenly the bassline changed somewhat. Robert Owens was replaced on stage by Arnold Jarvis. the song fused into “And I Loved You”. it was beyond beautiful. if you know both these RECORDS you must be able to appreciate how great this moment was. my memory is definitely skewed by all these years, and abuse to my brain, but that’s how I remember it. I’m sure someone can correct me on some details. but Frankie DJ’d that night as well, one of his best sets I’ve heard… and one of the many times I’ve been blessed to hear him play, here in Toronto, in New York at the Red Zone or at the Sound Factory Bar and in Miami as well… and sadly no one will ever have an experience close to that again. I might not have described how special and wonderful it was, but my GAWD it’s one of my favourite moments with this music in my life and it’s what I’m thinking about… and many other great memories today. sharing is caring.“*
* Re-published with permission from Mitch Winthrop’s Facebook Page.
So, in honour of the legendary Frankie Knuckles, Godfather of House music, let’s all try to go back to that perfect moment. Here are both tracks that Winthrop refers to in that set. Here’s Tears, followed by And I Loved You.
You may also want to check out:
15 of the Very Best Classic House Anthems
Once Upon a Time In New York: The Birth of Hip Hop, Disco & Punk
Kill Yourself Dancing :: New Doc Uncovers History of House Music Pioneers :: Sunset Records