Last night the Godfather of "House Music" Frankie Knuckles died. He is considered a pioneer of urban music, particularly dance music and its influence is worldwide but "House Music" is a Chicago creation and modern dance music owes a lot to "House Music and the late Frankie Knuckles.
I was too young to attend the legendary music parties at the old Mendel High School (111th & King Drive on the south side), or go the old Warehouse or Power Plant clubs (in what is now the near west loop), where Frankie Knuckles was the "House" DJ.
But for those of us on the south side growing up in the 80’s his influence in dance and especially “house music”, was clearly apparent.
“House Music” was what emerged after disco went out of style and young people wanted something to dance to and go to the club. And for those of us too young to go out to the club, our radio station to listen to house music was the old WBMX 102.7 FM ("The Black Music Experience"), and they had the “Mix at Six”, which was a short weeknight mix of music, usually about 30 minutes. Enough to hear the latest mix and talk about at school the next day And much longer mixes on the weekends (usually a few hours at least), none of which had explicit lyrics and was the same was what was played in the clubs so those of us underage could listen to it and "feel grown".
"House Music" was born as disco DJ's like the late Frankie Knuckles hosted dance music parties in their house/apartment and people hung out, listened to quick tempo urban music played non stop. Its humble beginnings were very much like disco was in New York in the early 1970's, just years later and here in Chicago. "House Music" has both instrumental electronic music as well as vocal songs that sound very much like mainstream R&B but a little more raw. There was a lot of emotion and more room for improvisation than in straight R&B of the time. The artists were underground but the DJ's would simply play song after song, back to back, all very uptempo (to keep you on the dance floor), and there was some rap music flavor in house as well as jazz. It was no doubt urban music that was fun and all about partying.
The radio house music mixes was “our music” for us young people, remember this is early to mid 80’s so rap music was going strong on the east coast but we didn't have our own nationally known rap stars here in Chicago for another few years.
Here house music was our regional sound and the radio mixes could go on for hours, just non stop music. It was electronic and at times experimental beats and sounds but always danceable and the best DJ's (like Frankie Kuckles, Farley "Jackmaster" Funk, The Hot Mix Five, Mr. Fingers and later Julian "Jumping" Perez), knew how to make a good mix that kept the beats going, the flow of the party upbeat and everyone having a good time.
One of the best known house music songs (and one of my favorites), is "Jack Your Body" by Steve "Silk" Hurley (who is a house and dance music pioneer and has won Grammy awards for dancer music), which was in a lot of mixes and various artists covered it. Another big hit for house music was Ten City's "Devotion" as well as Inner City's "Big Fun". You also had artists like Adonis, Mr. Lee & Fingers Inc who had a number of house music classics (even some later hits that were more like mainstream rap), and all of these are available on most music apps, I listen to many of them on Spotify and it brings back great memories of listening to these songs on the radio close to 30 years ago.
House music was special not just because Chicago was the birthplace of it but because no one was excluded from house music, it was the music of young people at the time, whether gay, straight, white black or Hispanic and the clubs that DJ's like Frankie Knuckles worked at allowed people to just have a good time.
Just as disco was all encompassing before it and electronic/techno was after it and to this day Grammy winning artists like Daft Punk have that same great, upbeat dancable sound.
House music also created "the remix" which is the reproduction of a song to a new beat, extended vocals other upbeat changes. Sean "P Diddy" Combs may claim to "inventing the remix" but I heard new versions of R&B songs in house music mixes here in Chicago way before Sean Combs had his many nicknames and was out talking over people's songs.
One of the best things about house music and listening to mixes was you never knew what was coming next and the better the DJ, the better the mix. For us young people at the time Frankie Knuckles created the perfect music for us because it was trendy and more hip than standard R&B but not quite like the emerging sound of rap either.
One other impact house music has was that several house music djs got into what later became "smooth jazz". Frankie Knuckles has a hit in the early 90's called "The Whistle Song" (thanks to Frank Dybas for introducing me to that song many years ago), and though WGCI the urban powerhouse station played it, it could have easily been on the playlist of then local smooth jazz station WNUA.
I believe that's the legacy of DJ's like Frankie Knuckles and the house music pioneers their music was not just for one kind of person or even in one kind of genre. They were about including everyone and making music we could all enjoy and have a good time which is as impressive as the music they created.
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