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Frankie Knuckles, House Music Pioneer, Dies at 59

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Godfather of House music, Frankie Knuckles, died on Monday at age 59. Knuckles, given name Francis Nicholls, started his DJ career at age 18 in New York City. His first gig was at The Continental Baths in Manhattan, an elaborate bathhouse that included a spa, an Olympic-sized swimming pool — and a dance floor. Knuckles established a signature style that included highly structured DJ sets, and when he moved to Chicago in his 20s, he rose to popularity at The Warehouse, where some allege the term “house music” was born.

At The Warehouse, Knuckles fleshed out his DJ skills, splicing beats from soul and Motown hits to satisfy the disco-hungry clubbers. Disco was waning, but no dance music was being produced as replacement, so Knuckles filled the gap with his original mixes. “He will play anything, not because it’s cool but because he likes it; he has his style,” said Terry Farley, fellow house music legend, of Knuckles’ DJ skills. “He’s never changed it, yet somehow his sets still sounds fresh.”

Knuckles went on to create his own production company, Def Mix Productions, working with music legends Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. He also produced original pieces when he signed with Virgin Records in 1991. “The Whistle Song,” Knuckles first single off his debut album Beyond the Mix, reached the top of the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.

“When you’re as fortunate as most of us working DJs to be able to share our creative blessings with the rest of the world, no matter how great or small, wouldn’t you agree that it’s best to give the world the best of who you are?” said Knuckles of his work, quoted on Tuesday in a statement from Def Mix Productions. Knuckles clearly fulfilled this philosophy. “His electrifying remixes and high-energy performances on the turntables packed clubs for decades,” said the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, “and he inspired a generation of DJs, bringing house music to the mainstream.”

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Frankie Knuckles, House Music Pioneer, Dies at 59
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