Godfather Lost: In Praise of Frankie Knuckles
Frankie Knuckles showed me that a dance floor can be transcendent, that there’s real drama in extending and rearranging a song that’s layered over and reshaped by a persistently soulful groove. Frankie knew the operatic seduction of anticipation. A ten-minute remix of his could start off with seven of intro and leave you aquiver with the song’s delayed opening line. A Frankie set wove moments like this together to showcase the passion, disappointment and joy of everyday living.
One of those journeys into sound that he took me on at The Sound Factory Bar over 20 years ago made me aspire to DJ in New York City. I’d already had my first gig in DC; but I wanted to come to the city where Frankie started with Larry Levan before moving to Chicago, where from 1977 to 1882 he spun at The Warehouse, a club whose second syllable gave us the feeling that named a genre our Godfather helped produce.
I wanted to give more than the sweat on the back of my neck that night to a house music community I’ve spent decades following. I wanted to contribute to a history that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Frankie, not just collect his remixes. Some of those original vinyl singles count among my most prized possessions.
Since learning that Frankie died yesterday, I’ve been sad and grateful. I’ve been cherishing yet again the ways he reinterpreted classics by Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. And I’ve been thanking him for my last seven years in Manhattan. My own odyssey here may have played like one of his extended remixes, but the chorus now fills my ears. My hands are in the air, reaching for Frankie until my own track blends into the one another DJ has cued up.