A Brief Introduction to The History of Chicago House Music
Nathan Ó Cléirigh


“What we did was gather all the right ingredients.” – Jesse Saunders

Some of you may have heard of the late Frankie Knuckles. During the height of the disco phenomena in the United States in the early to mid-1970s, Frankie lived in New York and was known primarily as a disco DJ at the time. Toward the end of the 1970s, Frankie moved to Chicago where he became a resident at the infamous Warehouse nightclub. On the cusp of a new decade, the popularity of disco began to fall. It was harder to find new disco records. More difficult to find radio stations playing disco regularly and the same applied for the clubs in Chicago. Frankie played a range on genres during this period that would have been described as a mixture of disco, indie soul, Italo disco and a selection of other tracks that would then go on to be known as house music. The name of the genre originated due to it being a shorter abbreviation of the Warehouse nightclub. People would often say that they’d go and see Frankie playing house music at the Warehouse. Frankie went on to win a Grammy Award for Remixer of the Year (Non-Classical) in 1997. Knuckles would also have been regarded as the godfather of house music as the genre grew in popularity and went on to be recognized across the globe.

Though Frankie is regarded as the godfather of house music he is not the creator of house or the Chicago house genre that surfaced back in the mid-80s. Jesse Saunders is regarded as the originator of house music. In 1984 the very first Chicago house record ‘On & On’ was released. At a time when disco was losing its prevalence, Saunders combined instruments such as the Roland TR-808, TB-303 and a Korg Poly-61 synthesizer with the addition of his own disco influences that would ultimately lead to him creating the Chicago house genre.

Jesse was not only the curator of the first-ever Chicago house track but is also the first house music producer to make it into the Billboard charts with his historic ‘Funk U Up’ which was also released in 1984. Saunders would go on to play a pivotal role in the history of dance music. His influence spanned globally from his widely recognised ‘I Can’t Turn Around’ which resulted in the house music revolution taking place in the UK towards the late 80s with ‘Dum Dum’ following not long after.

It is important to note that Farley “Jackmaster” Funk also had a part to play in house music taking the UK by storm around that time too. ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ was his take on Saunders ‘I Can’t Turn Around’. He added a new hook and vocals while keeping much of the instrumental arrangement intact which resulted in the finished product that is ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’. The track reached the number 10 spot in the UK singles charts in 1986 and acted as a turning point in dance music’s popularity rising in the United Kingdom at that time.

Looking back its extremely impressive seeing how well these tunes have stood the test of time. Hearing how these songs were produced with a minimal amount of hardware can really show how these pioneers really pushed house music as a genre forward into territory that would have been unheard of at the time into the late 80s and beyond.