UNSUNG Documentary On Frankie Knuckles And House Music Draws Mixed Reviews
UNSUNG on TV ONE documentary on Frankie Knuckles and House Music did the best it could with the time it had… or did it?
The history of House Music, it goes back to our roots here in Chicago. In fact, the place that took house from the underground and delivered it to the mainstream just so happens to be our sister network [when it was part of the AM/FM landscape here in Chicago] WBMX.COM.
WBMX was at 102.7 FM/1490 AM back in the day and it was Lee Michaels who created the Hot Mix 5 who would play to a million people each weekend on the mix shows. It was Michaels who would assemble a DJ team that would deliver mixes to Chicago starting in 1981 on the weekends. This was a time when dance music was dead according to the experts – after the Disco Demolition here in Chicago [which helped kill disco and the radio station that played it here in Chicago in ’79, Disco DAI at 94.7 FM].
Due to the Disco DAI format change, there were no more mixes and very little if any dance music anymore. WJPC experimented briefly with mixes in the summer of ’80 when they went from a day-time AM to 24 hours a day. WGCI would experiment with remixes of songs but for dance music, mixes etc… they were all but gone until Michaels came to Chicago and utilized the club scene to build the radio station. This is a major part of HOUSE MUSIC history that was just jumped over – among many other things.
House music would’ve never achieved what it did had it not been for one man bringing it to the radio, taking it from the underground and presenting it to the masses as ‘normal music that deserved a place on the dial’. What he accomplished at WBMX was something that had never been done in Chicago, he helped dethrone WGCI which had been #1 forever and put house music on the map. At that time, PDs of radio had no respect for dance music so something called ‘house music’? You couldn’t get a soul to even think about allowing it played on their precious radio stations however, Michaels thought differently because he saw it in the clubs. There were people of all colors, from the burbs to the city, all types coming together dancing to a style of music exclusive to Chicago.
It wasn’t until 1986 that the media here in our own city acknowledged ‘house music’ (see below).
Before ‘House Music’, all the clubs were bangin’ anything that had Arthur Baker’s name on it, tons of NYC music, imports from Italy, downtempo R&B dance-oriented artists or HI-NRG. Freestyle was just starting to make a move from NYC to markets where Hispanics and white people with open minds to dance music would become fans. “House Music” was not a ‘style’ of music yet and then the term started flying around in ’85 mostly in part to Rocky Jones and his vision at DJ International. Some of house music’s biggest first records were by artists that weren’t really artists, just names made up because you wanted to make it sound like an artist. X-Factor comes to mind, then the artists like Steve Silk Hurley, Adonis, Clarence McClain whose voice on Marshall Jefferson’s record is the anthem for all house music. Some of these things were touched upon, many were not.
WBMX was bangin’ mix shows like ‘The Friday Night Jams’, “Saturday Night Live Ain’ No Jive Chicago Dance Party” hosted by Armando Rivera who is chief big wig at our WBMX.COM today. Then came the “Hot Lunch Mix” and more. These mix show did more to re-inforce the ‘legitimacy’ of ‘house music’ moreso than any club ever could. Again, These were just some of the parts left out of the latest installment of Unsung’s amazing documentary series titled Unsung: Frankie Knuckles and The Roots of House Music.
Social media commentary on the feature has been mixed and many of those who were mentioned (and not mentioned) chimed in.
And then there was our good friend from Henry Street, a dance music icon, Johnny D’s statement that resonated with us, “I watched the Unsung Knuckles Episode and thought it was good. But being the perfectionist that I am I can’t for the life of me understand how there is no mention of David Morales or Judy and Screamin Rachel is in just about every segment???? It is almost as ridiculous as Maestro where they show the same image of Larry and play songs that were out after he was dead! Is it possible that there are that few out there that really know?” Our Answer: There’s few doing the research to put it together who know so they rely on the names they see over and over who may have left out many pieces for many reasons.
But, to be honest, this was a story on Knuckles and his life, we get all that but, to do this right – if you’re going to call it a defining documentary on ‘house music’ as well, you can’t squeeze it all into an hour, you can’t act as if the ‘city’ was the only place bumpin’ ‘the music, where the music was being helped along, you can’t just interview people who never left their block to know it was happening elsewhere, you can’t leave out the DJ culture in Chicago, the clubs that had a massive influence on people growing up who were exposed to music they would’ve never heard anywhere else, exposing millions of people to a music that radio ignored, the DJ stores, you can’t leave out labels like DJ International, people like Rocky Jones and Benji Espinoza who worked around the clock to get this music into the most important people’s hands, Hot Mix 5 Records and the others who all had massive hits thanks to the radio play their labels were getting on WBMX’s mix shows each weekend. Those labels not mentioned, those people not mentioned did more for house music than those who took all the credit in this documentary. Those people and those labels propelled the sales of those records and [in turn] those sales numbers opened the eyes of others at other labels outside of Chicago which opened the doors of licensing those records and spreading the ‘house sound’. Many of these were left out of this episode or brushed over in favor of what seemed to be some love fest with something that didn’t really occur, some self-serving comeuppance for not being known back in the day as much as they are today and of course because many never left their block, if they never interacted with others outside their sphere of influence, they had no idea anything was going on outside ‘hood.
So check it out for yourself below and let us know what you think.
For a real history of how it all went down, visit our sister website, we have an entire section of the site dedicated to the HISTORY as told by many of those who created it, shaped it and were the people behind the scenes who helped make it all happen. CLICK HERE FOR THE HISTORY.