Some years ago, the routine thump of four-four house music made it out of Chicago and into international dance clubs. Since then, it's crept slowly onto setlists, airwaves, and into stadiums. House has become a global force, socially and economically, far removed from its fairly humble beginnings as an early '80s soundtrack to a small pocket of the Windy City.
One of the main engines for house from the start was Frankie Knuckles, widely known as The Godfather of House, who died yesterday at the age of 59. Knuckles (who was actually originally born in The Bronx) moved to Chicago when he was young and set up residence at The Warehouse, the club whose distinct style gave house its name. Knuckles was a popular DJ there — he remained one up until his death, even playing last month at Miami's Winter Music Conference — but his true legacy is in his production work. Songs like "Your Love," "Baby Wants to Ride," and "It's a Cold World" are truly house at its purest, mixing deep percussion with sinister overtones, perfect for a dark club and a salacious evening.
There's already a street in Chicago named after him
What house became is built on those early tracks, his young explorations as a producer becoming the blueprint for countless other producers three decades later. As his career extended into the '90s, he worked further in the sunshine, eventually penning what is arguably his signature track, "The Whistle Song." It's a lovely song, with its ethereal extended introduction on the flute and the drums' funky rumblings, all moved steadily along by an upbeat whistling for the wordless chorus. That implicit joy stayed with him, as a DJ, a producer, and a smiler (he had some serious pearly whites, and no qualms about showing them off) up until his death.
There's already a street in Chicago named after him, so we can't offer something quite as monumental, but here's a quick primer on some of his greatest jams. While you may not know his name, in your heart and in your head you already know his sound.