Frankie Knuckles, the legendary DJ and producer who pioneered the dance-music genre known as house, has died at age 59.
Knuckles, who was gay, died unexpectedly at his home in Chicago Monday afternoon, the Chicago Tribune reports. He was known as the “godfather of house” for his role in developing the genre, and he also worked as a producer with artists including Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, and Depeche Mode. He was a member of the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame and even got a shout-out on the gay-beloved TV series Absolutely Fabulous.
The Bronx-born Knuckles worked with well-known DJ Larry Levan in New York City at venues including the Continental Baths before moving to Chicago in 1977, according to his Hall of Fame biography. There, he initially worked at the Warehouse, then opened his own club, the Power Plant, in 1983.
“He would extend mixes of soul and R&B records and turn them into dance tracks, introduce new singles being produced by fledgling house artists and incorporate drum machines to emphasize the beat,” writes music critic Greg Kot in the Tribune. “In addition to building dynamic ebb-and-flow sets that would keep his dancefloor filled from midnight to noon on weekends, he would create theater-of-the-mind scenarios with inventive sound and lighting.”
Although Knuckles got more fan recognition in Europe than in Chicago, he maintained that the situation didn’t bother him, the Tribune reports. He moved away from Chicago for a time but returned in 2000. In 2001 he told Windy City Times that Chicago “is one of the places in the world I feel most natural. It feels more like home and I think the inspirational effect from here would help fuse that.”
He considered dance clubs “a safe haven for the gay, African-American and Hispanic communities that first embraced him,” according to the Tribune. His activities in Chicago’s LGBT community also included spinning records at the opening ceremony of Gay Games VII in the city in 2006, notes Windy City Times.
Watch a clip of his AbFab mention below.