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Frankie Knuckles

DJ Frankie Knuckles was born in the Bronx, New York on January 18, 1955. The first music he was exposed to as a child came from his sister’s jazz record collection. He was naturally creative and studied commercial art and costume design before he started spinning records as a teenager in 1971.

Knuckles’ first DJing job came from Tee Scott, whom he credits as both a legend and a major influence on his own style. In 1972, Knuckles and childhood friend Larry Levan first worked together at the New York City club, The Gallery. When Levan left to work at Continental Baths in 1973, Knuckles followed to work as the alternate DJ to Levan. He remained at Continental Baths until the club closed in 1976. In March of 1977, Knuckles played the opening night of the Chicago private after hours club, US Studio -The Warehouse, which was located in a three-story factory building in Chicago’s West Loop industrial area. In 1983, Knuckles opened his own club, The Power Plant which was located in an industrial space near the Cabrini Green housing projects.

After more than a decade behind the turntables in dance clubs, Knuckles began to record tracks as well as play them. In 1983, a 12-inch single of his Warehouse classic “Let No Man Put Asunder” was released on the Salsoul label. The song went on to become a house classic. Knuckles produced songs for local Chicago vocalists and wrote such tracks as “Baby Wants To Ride,” “Bad Boy,” “Cold World" and “Your Love,” which was a breakthrough hit for Chicago native Jamie Principle. Knuckles released a hit with “You Can't Hide” in 1986. Knuckles closed the Power Plant that same year. In 1987, he returned home to New York City and secured gigs at the city’s hottest clubs, including the Roxy and Sound Factory. Knuckles, joined David Morales, (one of the biggest names in house music), along with Judy Weinstein founded the Def Mix music production company in 1988.

In 1991, Knuckles signed with Virgin Records, becoming one of the first DJs to sign to a major label. In 1997, he became the first DJ to win a Grammy Award for "”Remixer of the Year.” Knuckles’ 2002 album, Motivation, was his first release of completely original tracks, rather than a remix album. Knuckles kicked off the Def Mix 15th Anniversary tour in Sydney, Australia in 2003. Knuckles has also remixed songs by superstars such as Janet Jackson, Diana Ross, Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan, En Vogue, and Michael Jackson.

Frankie Knuckles was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 23, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.235

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/23/2013

Last Name

Dunson

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Occupation
Schools

P.S. 60

High School of Art and Design

Fashion Institute of Technology

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

John Dwyer Junior High School #133

First Name

Frederick

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

KNU01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

Only Thing Worse Than A Woman That's Jealous Of Me Is Two Women.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

1/18/1955

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pasta

Death Date

3/31/2014

Short Description

Dj Frankie Knuckles (1955 - 2014 ) signed with Virgin Records in 1991, becoming one of the first DJs to sign to a major label. In 1997, he became the first DJ to win the Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical.

Employment

Delete

Continental Baths & Entertainment

Favorite Color

Olive

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Frankie Knuckles' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Frankie Knuckles lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Frankie Knuckles describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Frankie Knuckles remembers his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Frankie Knuckles describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Frankie Knuckles describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Frankie Knuckles talks about his early childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Frankie Knuckles describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Frankie Knuckles describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Frankie Knuckles remembers listening to the radio and spending time with his maternal great-grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Frankie Knuckles describes his early artistic interests

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Frankie Knuckles remembers being hit by a car as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Frankie Knuckles talks about his early schooling in Mobile, Alabama

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Frankie Knuckles remembers moving to the South Bronx neighborhood of New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Frankie Knuckles describes his early household

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Frankie Knuckles remembers helping to take care of his family

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Frankie Knuckles talks about his elementary and junior high school years

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Frankie Knuckles remembers his favorite subject in school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Frankie Knuckles recalls living with his sister, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Frankie Knuckles recalls living with his sister, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Frankie Knuckles talks about using art as an emotional escape

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Frankie Knuckles remembers his teacher Robert Marvin and coping with his emotions

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Frankie Knuckles talks about his early musical influences

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Frankie Knuckles recalls exploring the music scene in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Frankie Knuckles talks about developing his musical preferences

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Frankie Knuckles talks about the nightclubs in Manhattan, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Frankie Knuckles recalls applying to the High School of Art and Design in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Frankie Knuckles talks about the counterculture environment of the 1970s

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Frankie Knuckles remembers defending himself and his friends in the South Bronx

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Frankie Knuckles recalls living with his friends in Upper Manhattan, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Frankie Knuckles talks about the curriculum at High School of Art and Design

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Frankie Knuckles describes the nightclubs in Manhattan, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Frankie Knuckles talks about hosting parties and events

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Frankie Knuckles remembers his start as a deejay

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Frankie Knuckles talks about being gay in the New York club scene

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Frankie Knuckles remembers Deejay Tee Scott

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Frankie Knuckles recalls seeing popular music performers in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Frankie Knuckles remembers getting involved in post-production in music

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Frankie Knuckles remembers Warehouse club owner, Robert Williams

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Frankie Knuckles recalls moving to Chicago, Illinois and opening the Warehouse nightclub

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Frankie Knuckles describes the house music at the Warehouse nightclub

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Frankie Knuckles talks about the history of house music

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Frankie Knuckles describes his decision to leave the Warehouse nightclub, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Frankie Knuckles talks about the development of house music

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Frankie Knuckles describes his decision to leave the Warehouse nightclub, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Frankie Knuckles talks about the differences between Chicago, Illinois and New York City

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Frankie Knuckles talks about the AIDS epidemic, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Frankie Knuckles talks about cultivating his image and personal character

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Frankie Knuckles talks about the AIDS epidemic, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Frankie Knuckles describes the racial prejudice of nightclubs in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Frankie Knuckles remembers his acquaintances in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Frankie Knuckles talks about launching his production career at Def Mix Productions

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Frankie Knuckles remembers the artists he's worked with throughout his production career

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Frankie Knuckles recalls working with Michael Jackson

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Frankie Knuckles talks about the remixing process

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Frankie Knuckles remembers working with Luther Vandross

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Frankie Knuckles talks about the art of music production

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Frankie Knuckles talks about the artists and repertoire division of major record labels

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Frankie Knuckles remembers the emergence of house music in Europe

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Frankie Knuckles talks about his record deal with Virgin Records America, Inc.

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Frankie Knuckles remembers winning the first Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Frankie Knuckles talks about his partnership at Def Mix Productions

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Frankie Knuckles describes the Def Mix Productions anniversary tours

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Frankie Knuckles remembers being inducted into the Dance Hall Music Hall of Fame

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Frankie Knuckles talks about his most recent projects

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Frankie Knuckles reflects upon the development of the house music genre

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Frankie Knuckles describes the Director's Cut project with Eric Kupper

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Frankie Knuckles talks about the future of the music industry

Tape: 7 Story: 13 - Frankie Knuckles describes the elements of house music

Tape: 7 Story: 14 - Frankie Knuckles reflects upon his career

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Frankie Knuckles talks about his art and the power of music

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Frankie Knuckles talks about mixing and playing for the crowds

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Frankie Knuckles reflects upon overcoming childhood abuse

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Frankie Knuckles describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Frankie Knuckles reflects upon his life

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$7

DAStory

4$5

DATitle
Frankie Knuckles talks about the history of house music
Frankie Knuckles remembers winning the first Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical
Transcript
(OFF CAMERA VOICE): So okay, so this, so--I wanna know, so what, what--the thing that we're talking about is house music and house music, it's interesting 'cause house music is huge as Chicago's [Chicago, Illinois] creation and not you know not New York's [New York, New York] creation, so--$$Right.$$(OFF CAMERA VOICE): --what were you, what were you doing here and how, how was it made possible? So let's you know let's talk about?$$Okay. When Steve Dahl blew up all those disco records in Comiskey Park [Chicago, Illinois] and they declared disco dead--$$(OFF CAMERA VOICE): And Steve Dahl was one of our--$$Yeah.$$(OFF CAMERA VOICE): --he was one of our deejays.$$Yeah, exactly. He was a big radio personality, WDAI [WDAI Radio; WLS Radio, Chicago, Illinois] I think it was. Anyway when he blew up all those disco records out in Comiskey Park I guess a lot of people were under the impression that it was going to affect the Warehouse [Chicago, Illinois] because the very next day twenty-four hours after they did the whole disco demolition so many discos around, in and around Chicago changed formats like overnight. They, they either shut down completely or they went country western remember. Because 'Urban Cowboy' was the movie at the time and so therefore they took their lead from 'Urban Cowboy' and so that became the whole sound of what was going on. You know they killed off disco. But it didn't have any effect on the Warehouse because one we weren't mainstream commercial you know and you know whatever disco records I was playing at the time you know wasn't even the same thing that they were playing at any of those other mainstream discos so but with disco being killed off and everything, I had to creatively find a way to keep the audience coming there 'cause now there's not a whole lot of music that's coming out with real energy to it so I had to creatively find a way to recreate some of the stuff that I was already playing to keep the audience interested I coming. And that's when I started doing a lot of post-production work of my own reediting, using drum machines and things like that to create tracks of my own and re--redesigning a lot of current stuff at the time.$$(OFF CAMERA VOICE): So talk about how you did that and is anyone else doing that at the time that you're doing that and that you're you know you've observed or you see you know in any of the clubs or things like that that you're (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) There's no one else in Chicago that's doing it. There are other people that are doing it probably in New York and probably in L.A. [Los Angeles, California], Philadelphia [Pennsylvania] maybe but not in Chicago. I think I was the only person that was actually doing it in Chicago. And you know in recreating all the songs and redesigning all these songs just to make them something special. The only place you're going to hear this is at the Warehouse. So you know so a lot of people came there for that reason you know because the music is unlike you know what you hear anywhere else. And it worked.$$(OFF CAMERA VOICE): But essentially what you're doing, you're taking different tracks and mixing them together. I mean so can you talk--$$I'm reediting.$$(OFF CAMERA VOICE): You're reedit- that's what I'm saying you're mixing them together.$$I'm taking current, yeah music that was current at the time and completely reediting it you know and adding certain elements like using drum machines and things like that to refashion these songs and just completely reproduce them you know from working with, you know working with the vinyl itself. And just turning this music around just to keep my dance floor interested.$So let's take you to 1997 when you won the Grammy Award for remixer of the year [Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical].$$How about that (laughter), okay?$$Can we talk about that?$$Sure.$$Or even how the Grammys worked. Do you get a call or?$$No, I was there. I was at the Grammys that night. I actually I got, I got pulled in to sit on the board of governors when they were, when they were trying to get the dance category. We were trying to get the dance category launched and so I sat on the board of governors and we got the category, the dance category plus a bonus and the bonus was a remix category. So like, "Wow okay well that can work." So there was a lot of backlash about it and stuff like that you know and you know I'm trying to be diplomatic because I'm sitting on the board of governors and I gotta be careful what I say and who I say it to because that could, you know, that could be the wrong thing and so the night at the Grammys, I mean when the ballots go out to vote for remix of the year, I saw my name on the ballot and I didn't think I was gonna get it. You know if anyone was gonna get it, David would have gotten it, Morales, 'cause David had a killer year that year as well. And that's what you were judged on, you were judged on your body of work that particular year and David had, David had a killer body of work that year. So I thought if anything he was gonna take it. And so then I ended up getting it and yeah, it blew my mind for sure. But I think, I think it had a more profound effect on everybody that knows me and knows me personally because I think all my friends and my family felt like they're the ones that won which is, which is what you want I mean. I think anytime you win you know an accolade like that you know I mean getting the respect from my peers in the music industry that was, that was the best part of it for me. Because that basically told me that everybody in this industry recognizes who I am and that was enough you know but for family or friends, to say you know, "Frankie [HistoryMaker Frankie Knuckles] took it." You know that kind of thing you know it's, it's like them saying, "I just won the Grammy." You know what I mean and they all acted just like that too, it was great.$$So that night who were your guests that night? Because you get--was someone sitting with you, next to you?$$Yeah Judy Weinstein was sitting with me. She went with me. David Morales was there because he was nominated as well and who else? This other friend of mine that I was seeing at the time. It was just a few of us that went.$$And then your name gets called and you're surprised and--$$Exactly. Exactly. It's--I haven't thought about it since it happened. It's like your whole world speeds up and slows down so quickly. It's like that depth of field thing where the whole background just goes (makes sound) and snaps back, it was like that.$$So what happens when you win a Grammy Award like that, do other things start coming your way, is that what happened?$$Well you would think that you know it's like you would think that it's like in Hollywood when a person wins the Oscar. Immediately you know the work starts coming in. No, what ends up happening is that the industry basically looks and says, "Well his rates just went through the roof." And so basically things will slow up. You have to, basically looking back on it now, you have to basically force your creativity to come to the surface. You have to really get creative and remain creative and stay that way and make sure the people look at what you're doing and listen to what you're doing and take it serious. You know what I mean otherwise you have--businesses will dry up because it--because so many people in the industry you know that would normally call me for remixes and stuff didn't, they just you know they took the attitude, "His rates just went through the roof so we're not gonna be able afford him now. He just got a Grammy."$$So how did you counteract that? 'Cause you know I--$$There's no counteracting it.$$So you just had to keep on working? 'Cause I mean that I'm telling you even on--Lou Gossett [HistoryMaker Louis Cameron Gossett, Jr.] told a story about you know after his Academy Award the phones weren't ringing.$$Yeah, it stops ringing.$$He said it was--they were not ringing.$$Yeah same thing.$$And he was living the lifestyle and went through a lot of money and next thing you know he had less friends and--$$Yeah it stops, yeah, it stops ringing.