Adorning the 2900 block of Fullerton in view of the Blue Line, northbound riders can see a new mural featuring the name and visage of Frankie Knuckles, complete with a record for a halo.
Erik Melos, owner of X-It Clothing Company, where the mural resides on the rooftop, says he is glad to have the mural on his property.
“People commute by here on a daily basis,” he says. “It was just an empty wall. Now there’s something.”
That “something” is a tribute by some of Chicago’s oldest graffiti artists for the “Godfather of House Music,” born Francis Nicholls, who died on March 31, 2014 at age 59 in his Chicago home. The cause of death has not been confirmed, but is reportedly linked to complications with Type II diabetes.
Working on the Mural Was a Moment of Silence for Knuckles
Seven graffiti artists representing three graffiti crews—ABC (Artistic Bombing Crew), CMW (Chicago’s Most Wanted) and RK (Reality Klash)—completed the mural in four days, just in time for the Frankie Knuckles Tribute dance party in Millennium Park on June 3.
Skol, muralist by day and artist for Chicago’s Most Wanted by night, was one of the artists who worked on the Frankie Knuckles mural. He says he and his graffiti crew have painted in other cities and would play Frankie Knuckles while working, and it would identify them as Chicagoans.
“It gave me pride in my city, that ‘Deep House’ sound,” he says.
But Skol says the artists hardly listened to music while they worked on the Frankie Knuckles mural.
“It was more of a moment of silence [as we worked],” he says. “A real spiritual kind of thing.”
Knuckles Took the Time to Talk to You
Knuckles began his DJ career in the 1970s in New York City, where he was born and raised. After moving to Chicago in 1977 as disco was dying, he stamped his signature dance music style at The Warehouse and later, The Power Plant.
DJ Lugo Rosado knew Knuckles for 30 years and spun at his 59th birthday party at Smart Bar two weeks before his death. Rosado met Knuckles when he was 15 years old and starting out as a DJ.
“Frankie was down to earth, very nice, different from other DJs,” Rosado says. “Some DJs wouldn’t even give you the time of day. Some DJs’ egos were too big, but he took the time to talk to you, smile, give you a hug, shake your hand, acknowledge you. DJs can learn from that.”
Knuckles went on to collaborate with artists such as Michael Jackson, Toni Braxton and Depeche Mode, and became a highly sought-after talent scout and producer. In 1997, Knuckles won a Grammy for “Remixer of the Year.” The City of Chicago declared August 25, 2004, as “Frankie Knuckles Day;” naming the stretch of Jefferson Street where The Warehouse once stood. But all along, Knuckles had the mind to contribute to multiple causes, such as Meals on Wheels, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Pediatric AIDS and Harvey Milk School.
Melos says a slew of new visitors have come by inquiring about the mural and Frankie Knuckles. Sometimes they ask permission to see the mural, at which point he puts up a “Back in 2 Minutes” sign on the door, taking the guest through a locked fence and up a staircase to get an up-close rooftop view of Knuckles’ smiling face.
“When I go upstairs, I see trains slow down as they pass by,” Melos says. “The train conductors are curious.” He laughs and points as heads turn to look out the window.
Logan Square a “Perfect” Home for the Mural
Melos says Logan Square is the perfect place for the mural to be. “Logan Square is a really artsy neighborhood—from the bar scene to the restaurant scene,” he says. “Logan Square is growing.”
DJ Rosado says he has hopes to continue the tribute with a block party near the mural, though he acknowledges it will take time and permission. Inevitably, he would like to see it happen.
“Whenever Frankie played,” Rosado says, “It was like everyone was there. All nationalities [and groups]: gay, straight, black, white, Asian. They would all come together, and it was like one big party.”