It’s been a year since we learned the tragic news that the Godfather of house music, Frankie Knuckles, passed. The legacy of Knuckles was so prolific that it influenced an international movement of DJs who credit him for their introduction to an art form that has taken various forms over the last 30 years. The music being played now — EDM which has become a watered down term for Electronica Dance Music — or to delve deeper Techno, Trance, Jungle, Drum and Bass, Acid, Deep House, Garage and Dub music can all be traced back to Knuckles. Chicago is considered the birthplace of house music, but the movement started in a converted building space at 206 W. Jefferson in the West Loop business district called The Warehouse.
Now, a group of businessmen have come together to tell the story of how it all started. Chicago entertainment attorney and filmmaker Randy Crumpton was a longtime friend and confidant of Frankie Knuckles. He brought together club owner Joe Shanahan (Metro, Smart Bar, Double Door), film producer Bob Teitel (Barbershop movie series) and entrepreneur/club owner Billy Dec (Rockit Ranch/Underground) to produce the film The Warehouse. The film’s treatment was started, a few years ago by Crumpton, who is also one of the creators of the “Black Perspectives” film series held every year in partnership with the Chicago International Film Festival.
“It is something that I wanted to do for a long time. Back in 2004, I wrote a treatment for the film and spoke with Frankie about it at the time. It’s been in the back of my mind because I felt this was a great Chicago
story. I knew Billy Dec who I met a few years ago at the Sundance Film Festival and he wanted to make some movies. I also talked to Joe Shanahan about the movie The Warehouse so we all spoke to each other and decided to come together to make one great film.”
During the backend of the disco era, New York native Robert Williams had relocated to Chicago and was on the scene for a while throwing parties. The film will focus on his influence as the club’s owner.
Crumpton explains, “Robert Williams was a part of a club called US Studios. They were doing these parties and they ended up leasing space at 206 S. Jefferson in 1977. Since he was from New York, Robert had the idea that he knew some guys from there that could come to Chicago to get things turned up. There wasn’t much going on in Chicago during that time so he went to New York City in the hopes of convincing Larry Levine to be the resident DJ but he was committed to the Paradise Garage. He suggested that Robert to talk to Frankie.”
Eventually, Knuckles came to Chicago and became the resident DJ for The Warehouse and created a signature sound of his own since disco was on life support.
“He had to manipulate old disco songs and take the reel-to-reel edits of a song to give folks coming to the parties a different sound. The next day, people would go to the record store after hearing the music and wanted that version but couldn’t buy it because it was something that he had created that night. So, they started calling that ‘sound’ they would hear at the Warehouse house music,” said Crumpton.
The film is currently in the pre-production process- finishing the script, securing financing and putting all of the pieces in place. Crumpton feels it’s vital for Chicago Black filmmakers and producers to build their base here in Chicago to maintain control. Film studio Cines pace is the base for successful television productions such as NBC’s Chicago Fire and Chicago PD as well as Empire on Fox 32; however, there aren’t any production companies providing a great deal of jobs for experienced people of color.
He adds, “In Atlanta, you have Rain Forest Films, Tyler Perry Productions and Roger Bobb of Bobbcat Films.
These are major production companies. Hopefully, we can begin to do some of these things. I’ve been talking with Regina Taylor, a successful actress and writer, and it’s her hope to start doing more production in Chicago so we can continue to hire Chicago talent and utilize Chicago resources. We need to put out great Chicago stories. This is just the tip of the iceberg because The Warehouse is a great Chicago story.”
In celebration of Frankie Knuckles’ life and to continue his legacy, business partner and friend Frederick Nelson founded the Frankie Dunston Foundation to educate people culturally through house music events.
A special fundraiser will be held today, Tuesday, March 31, from 6:00 to 10 p.m. at the Underground located at 59 E. Illinois. All proceeds will benefit the Frankie Knuckles Foundation.