Exclusive: Diane Warren and others remember DJ pioneer Frankie Knuckles
When Frankie Knuckles died unexpectedly yesterday, it sent reverberations throughout the dance community. Though his name may not be as familiar to some as the current rank of superstar dance names, like Avicii or Skrillex or David Guetta, make no mistake about it: Knuckles was a titan and a pioneer.
Dubbed the Godfather of House Music, he helped usher in a new era of dance music through such now-iconic tracks as “Tears” and “The Whistle Song.”
Hitfix’s editor, Gregory Ellwood, wrote a moving tribute to Knuckles today. I didn’t know Knuckles well, so instead I reached out to some of our mutual friends and asked them to tell me what Knuckles meant to them. Here are their stories in their own words. I kept them all in their entirety and feel like Bill Coleman’s comments give a particular insight and background into Knuckles for those not familiar with the man and his music:
Diane Warren, songwriter: I was very sad to hear of the passing of Frankie Knuckles. He was a real pioneer and legend and his re-mixes a lot of times were not mere re-mixes but re-imaginings and great productions that made those records become the huge hits they became. I was lucky enough to have him work his magic on some of my songs, like “Unbreak My Heart” and a number of Whitney Houston ones. RIP, Frankie. Make Heaven dance.
Julie Gold, songwriter: I was on The NARAS Board Of Governors with Frankie for several years. He was a gentle giant. A humble, warm, gracious person. We shared a panel once for BMI and NARAS. Some wise-ass kid in the audience asked him, "What I wanna know is how did you get that name?"To which he calmly responded, "My father was Frankie Knuckles.” I’m pretty sure he said, My father was Frankie Knuckles AND my grandfather was Frankie Knuckles,” but I can't swear to it. Even his wrist watch was giant. He had a giant presence. Just a giant spirit.
Tommy Page, artist/Pandora head of music partnerships: I grew up in the NYC club scene and Frankie Knuckles provided the soundtrack to my life on the dance floor. His music had a unique silky smooth style to it that inspired me as an artist. I was fortunate to have met Frankie, and while his soul was gentle and he was modest, his talent was larger than life. His music will continue to inspire and live on. Frankie Knuckles is a legend. Thank you, Frankie, for the music. RIP
Bill Coleman, owner, Peace Biscuit/former Billboard dance editor: Frankie Knuckles is first and foremost a legend. He's called "The Godfather of House" for a reason. He helped introduce the world to a genre of music and sensibility that would go onto influence generations of artists, producers, remixers and fellow DJs alike. As a club-going New Yorker since the mid-'80's and a member of the Dance Music community professionally since the late '80's, I've had the distinct pleasure of dancing to Frankie in numerous settings and venues and seeing the master at work in the studio. From energetic sessions at places like The World to The Roxy to Sound Factory Bar there was always a distinct R&B-flavored, uplifting joy that permeated Frankie's sets. He understood intrinsically the power that the dance floor had to bring all kinds of people together. It's something he shared with his musical brother and fellow DJ royalty Larry Levan. As a newbie on the scene, Frankie was always supportive, encouraging and gracious to me. Dancing to him spinning his mix of Sound of Blackness' "The Pressure" at Sound Factory Bar is emblazoned in my memory as one of my favorite times on any dance floor. This is when DJs were not afraid to play a favorite song two or three times in a set. Pure heaven! I remember him having a sly sense of humor and that million-watt smile that could sometimes turn into a mischievous grin depending on how late in the evening it was. He was like that smart and sensitive bear of an older brother that was always at the top of his game, but always found the time to look out for you. As I read and hear all of the outpouring of gratitude for his talents and music being discussed and reminisced over, I know he would be truly humbled by all of the worldwide attention and love. Never resting on his laurels or letting his recent illness deter him, Frankie and his current production partner, Eric Kupper - collectively known as Director's Cut - have been releasing a great deal of stellar production and remix work over the last couple of years (Check 2012's gorgeous compilation double-disc album, "Tales from Beyond the Tone Arm" for starters) that I hope also gets thoroughly acknowledged in the round ups. Frankie was not a nostalgia act. He was 100% committed to keeping house music alive! Amidst all of the pomp and grandeur of EDM's noisy, corporate-fueled rise and takeover, Frankie remained a class act that never let fads or trends deter him from making and playing the music he helped birth. I consider myself fortunate to have known and worked with him. My heart goes out to his longtime manager Judy Weinstein, business partner David Morales, and the Def Mix family for their incredible loss. The saving grace being that Frankie's considerable legacy and beautiful music will indelibly live on through all of us as we carry the torch he thankfully lit and fueled into the future. Frankie Knuckles was a pioneer, a musical shaman and an inspiration. He was one in a million. A true pioneer and hero of a music genre.