DJ who pioneered house music

DJ who pioneered house music

Born: January 18, 1955; Died: March 31, 2014

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Frankie Knuckles, who has died aged 59, was a DJ and producer who played a vital role in the development of house music in the early 1980s. He was also a remixer popular with stars such as Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Depeche Mode.

He was born Francis Nicholls in the Bronx in New York and began working as a DJ while studying textile design at the city's Fashion Institute of Technology. It was the 1970s and disco still dominated the clubs and the charts but Knuckles pioneered something new: a form of electronic dance music that drew on jazz, funk and disco.

In the late 70s, he moved to Chicago and became resident DJ at the new Warehouse club, playing obscure imports and re-editing oddball disco records for dancefloor impact. Eventually, people began calling what Knuckles was doing at the Warehouse house music after the venue.

Knuckles himself only realised what was happening when he was driving through the Chicago suburbs in 1981 and saw a sign in a bar window: "We play house music." "Now, what's that all about?" he asked the friend he was with. "It means music like you're playing at the Warehouse," his friend replied. It's how the new genre was invented.

Knuckles continued to play at the Warehouse until 1982 when he opened his own club in the city, The Power Plant. He then became a regular on the international club scene, playing in Ibiza and at the Ministry of Sound in London, where he continued to appear until just a few days before his death.

From the 1990s onwards, he was in demand as a remixer for stars such as Jackson and Diana Ross but he also released several albums. His first was Beyond the Mix in 1991 but there was also Welcome to the Real World in 1995 and A New Reality in 2004. His most famous tracks were 1987's Your Love and 1991's The Whistle Song, which became a popular gay anthem.

Knuckles always said he liked to play off-the-cuff. "Mixes are never planned or premeditated," he said. "I may not know what order the tunes are coming, but I do know what's coming is good."

He won a Grammy in 1997 for Remixer of the Year and was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005. A street in Chicago is named after him thanks to then Chicago senator Barack Obama.