By Cleve Adkins
History was made in Chicago on Wednesday, Aug. 25—at least in the eyes of those fans around the world who are drawn to the pulsating sounds of 'house music.'
In the company of two aldermen, a state representative and an official from the office of Mayor Richard M. Daley, among others, Chicago's adopted son and Grammy Award-winning DJ Frankie Knuckles was honored for his contributions to the music industry and his charitable contributions and support to the City of Chicago with a street being named in his honor and the day declared by the Mayor as 'Frankie Knuckles Day.'
The celebration took place at a site that was once one of the hottest dance venues in the City of Chicago—Jefferson Street, between Van Buren and Madison Avenues. It was in this location 'back in the day' that people gathered to unwind from a trying day, dancing into the wee hours of the night at the legendary Club Warehouse—a building that has since been demolished.
For Knuckles, it was a place where he, upon his arrival in Chicago in 1977, began to establish himself as one of the founding fathers of a new musical form that would later be referred to as 'house music.' Knuckles clocked thousands of hours at the Warehouse, serving as its resident DJ.
Today, after more than 30 years in the business, his peers and young followers refer to him as the 'Godfather of House.'
While Knuckles invited friends and relatives from as far as London and Japan to a small reception immediately following the naming ceremony, he gave something back to all of his fans, as he always does, by spinning sounds and electrifying a packed Grant Park Pavilion later that evening in a three-hour 'danceathon' featuring the hottest sounds in house music.
Despite the weather—intermittent rain showers and a typically humid Chicago summer evening—Knuckles' fans were not deterred, refusing to give up one inch on the dance floor while shouting affirmations in his name and literally dancing themselves out of their clothes.
But what impressed this writer the most was the fact that Knuckles attracted a diverse audience rarely seen on dance floors or at any other social event—straight and gay, young and old and people of all races, enjoying the festivities together without the hint of conflict.
Knuckles took a few moments to talk to this Windy City Times/Identity reporter, who was present for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, about his feelings following the day-long celebration.
WCT: When did you first learn about being honored with the street-naming dedication?
Knuckles: I learned of this by accident one evening when I was at a party with my best friend Frederick [Dunson of D/E Entertainment]. Someone came up to me and mentioned it but I thought they were trying to make small talk. When I mentioned it to Frederick the following day, while upset, he confirmed it. He also said it was supposed to be a surprise. I guess some girls just can't hold water.
WCT: How does this make you feel about your career and your many contributions to the citizens of Chicago?
Knuckles: I am so completely overwhelmed by it all. I am an extremely blessed and fortunate man to be able to work at something I love doing for 30-plus years, have the respect of my contemporaries and the community and to be honored in this way by the city. I'm thrilled!
WCT: I see that a lot of people traveled from across the globe to help you celebrate. Who were some of the people who came to show their support?
Knuckles: I've spent the better part of the past 12 years touring the world. My work is so global these days. I've made many great friendships along the way from as far away as Australia and New Zealand and a lot of these friends came to town just for the occasion. They've all wanted a reason to come to Chicago and have been planning to for a long time. This occasion was the motivation they needed to make that happen.
WCT: What's on your schedule now as the summer draws to a close?
Knuckles: My immediate plans are to wrap up my summer tour of Europe. During the Labor Day Weekend I'll spend my time in the South at my family reunion except for that Sunday when I'll play at SBNY [Slash Bar New York]. Then it's back home to Chicago where I plan to give my ears a much-deserved rest from all of the noise.
WCT: How would you assess the current state of house music?
Knuckles: Well, I can't really assess it here in the United States completely. But it is healthy here in Chicago. And because I spend so much time out in the rest of the world, I know that it's very happening now, especially the very soulful side of things. Songs and vocals and lyrics and melodies are having a major play on dance floors all over the world. It's like it's a new fad to some folks. But I don't care, as long as they get it and appreciate it.
WCT: The party at the park was phenomenal—a real blend of orientations, races, etc. You appeared to be the catalyst for all of that. What was it like spinning on stage and looking out at the crowd?
Knuckles: Describing it is very difficult. It was very emotional for me. Music is the one language we all speak. Everyone loves music and it really brings folks together. So, when it all happens like this and all the love comes back at you in huge waves, it's very hard to fight back the tears of joy. I do love this city and the people, beyond measure.
WCT: Why aren't there more places in Chicago like the old Warehouse?
Knuckles: I'm not really sure. The laws changed everything about clubbing in the city. The Warehouse was a very rare and unique situation in nightlife here in Chicago.
WCT: Are there any other comments you would like to add as we close?
Knuckles: Only that I've had so many people say to me at the ceremony and the celebration in the park, 'what took them so long in recognizing house music?' My answer has been, 'at least they've recognized [it].' Like gospel, house music is another major feather in Chicago's cap. It's nice to see something as big as the genre of music that is so global and loved by people around the world, to still be steeped in intimacy here. After all, like baseball is to American sports [fans], house music means everything to the people of Chicago. And the people of Chicago mean everything to me.
Bravo Brother Knuckles—let the music play.