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Gay House Music Legend from Chicago Dies

frankie knuckles chicago house music

Frankie Knuckles

one of the major founding forces of house music, passed away yesterday at the age of 59. He died unexpectedly at his Chicago home on Monday.

When he was just 18, he got a job as a DJ at a major destination for gay men — the Continental Baths in Manhattan. That’s also where Bette Midler and Barry Manilow got their starts. In an interview with the BBC two years ago, Knuckles described it as a world unto itself.

“It was more than just a bath house,” he said. “There was a boutique. There was an Olympic-sized swimming pool. There was a theater room. There was a salon.”

“A lot of people would check in on Friday night and they wouldn’t check out until Monday morning,” Knuckles said. “They were on their way to work.”

Knuckles’ signature sets were not about explosive non-stop energy. He structured them, he once said, like stories with internal logic and a certain moody momentum.

In the late Seventies, the DJ moved to Chicago at the behest of Robert Williams, who had opened the late night club the Warehouse and needed a resident. Frankie didn’t just rise to the occasion, he created a way of playing music from disparate genres and making it seem cohesive — it became known as house music; and Knuckles became legendary through his edits, his grace and his style.

House spread from Chicago and Detroit to Ibiza and Berlin, and helped sweep in the drug-fueled rave culture in the U.K. in the ’90s. But Knuckles was never interested in hedonism. He saw the dance floor as a sacred space. The beat united everybody there. For Frankie Knuckles, the beat was a creed. Knuckles was inducted into Chicago’s Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1996.

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