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Frankie Knuckles
Photograph: Courtesy Hector RomeroFrankie Knuckles

Frankie Knuckles, "The Godfather of House," dies at 59

One of modern dance music's most influential DJs and producers has passed away after a long battle with diabetes

Written by
Bruce Tantum

It’s safe to say that without Frankie Knuckles—who unexpectedly passed away on Monday afternoon from complications from type 2 diabetes—clubland would be a very different place than it is today. For one thing, house music very likely wouldn’t be called house music, since most accounts of the term’s birth credit Knuckles’s seminal deejaying stint at Chicago Warehouse from the late '70s through early ’80s, when he would play beat-box-enhanced edits of disco and postdisco cuts deep into the night. 

But the beloved figure was actually a New Yorker. Born in the Bronx, he (along with buddy Larry Levan, later to become the DJ at Paradise Garage) was a regular at the Loft and the Gallery in modern-day nightlife’s formative early-’70s era. He cut his deejaying teeth at the Continental Baths, and later returned to Gotham as a resident of the East Village club the World in the late ’80s, alongside his Def Mix Productions partner David Morales. He also recorded some of the genres most-loved tunes, including the beautiful “Your Love,” the luscious “Tears” (produced with Satoshi Tomiie) and one of the most ubiquitous house cuts ever committed to vinyl, “The Whistle Song.”
Knuckles was more than a hugely influential artist, however; he was also one of the nicest, most gracious guys in the business, and he positively glowed with love for the music and for the scene. Far from being a relic from dance music’s history, he was still an active participant in that scene. Despite his sometimes fragile health, he kept up an active, world-spanning DJ schedule, with a Boiler Room set in Brooklyn last year proving that Knuckles could still rock the four-to-the-floor rhythms with the best of them. Dance music has lost one of its true heroes, one who will be sorely missed. 

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