BLACK HISTORY MONTH ANNUAL TRIBUTES 2023 / VOLUME 1

Research & Presentation Sponsored by Miko Evans for Meak Productions, Inc.

FRANKIE KNUCKLES (The Godfather of House Music)

Francis Warren Knuckles, Jr., AKA Frankie Knuckles (January 18, 1955 – March 31, 2014), was a beloved DJ, record producer, and innovative remixer who played an essential role in developing and popularizing house music in the 1980s and 1990s. He made history as the first House Music DJ to win the Grammy Award for Remixer of the Year, Non-Classical in 1997, and he was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005.

Known as the “Godfather of House Music,” Knuckles was born in the New York City borough of the Bronx. While still a student, Knuckles began working as a DJ, playing soul, disco, and R&B at two of the most important early discos, The Continental Baths and The Gallery, where he worked with his childhood friend and fellow DJ, Larry Levan. He went on to study textile design at the State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.

In the late 1970s, Knuckles moved from New York City to Chicago, where Robert Williams launched what became known as the Warehouse, a legendary gay club staple. When the club opened in 1977, Knuckles was invited to play regularly, which enabled him to hone his skills and style. The style evolved into a mixture of disco classics, unusual indie-label soul, the occasional rock track, European synth-disco, and all manner of rarities, which would all eventually become blended under Frankie Knuckles’ skillful remixing into house music, deriving its name from a shortened version of the Warehouse.

Knuckles was so popular that the Warehouse from 1977 to 1982 had to cancel its members-only policy and began welcoming a straighter and whiter audience. Knuckles continued at the Warehouse until November of 1982 when he started his own club in Chicago, The Power Plant. Knuckles’ sets typically featured his extended edits of a wide selection of tracks from disco to post-punk, R&B to synth-heavy Eurodisco. What he created every night laid the groundwork for electronic dance music and culture and mapped its future.

As house music was developing in Chicago, producer Chip E. took Frankie under his tutelage and produced his first recording, “You Can’t Hide from Yourself.” Then came more production work, including Jamie Principle’s “Baby Wants to Ride” and later, “Tears” with Robert Owens (of Fingers, Inc.) and (Knuckles’ protégé and future Def Mix associate) Satoshi Tomiie.

When the Power Plant closed in 1987, Knuckles played for four months at Delirium in the United Kingdom. He also had a stint in New York, where he continued to immerse himself in producing, remixing, and recording. The following year saw the release of the Pet Shop Boys’ third album, “Introspective,” which featured Knuckles as a co-producer of the song “I Want a Dog.”

Frankie made numerous popular Def Classic Mixes with John Poppo as a sound engineer and partnered with David Morales on Def Mix Productions. His debut album, “Beyond the Mix,” in 1991, contained his seminal work, “The Whistle Song,” which was the first of four number-one hits on the US dance chart. The Def Classic mix of Lisa Stansfield’s “Change,” released in the same year, also featured the whistle-like motif. Another track from the album, “Rain Falls,” featured vocals from Lisa Michaelis. Eight thousand copies of the album had sold by 2004. Other key remixes from this time include his rework of the Electribe 101 anthem “Talking With Myself” and Alison Limerick’s “Where Love Lives.”

When Junior Vasquez took a sabbatical from The Sound Factory in Manhattan, Knuckles took over and launched a successful run as resident DJ. Knuckles continued to work as a remixer through the 1990s and into the next decade, reworking tracks from Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Diana Ross, Eternal, and Toni Braxton. He released several new singles, including “Keep on Movin'” and a re-issue of an earlier hit, “Bac N Da Day,” with Definity Records. In 1995, Knuckles released his second album, “Welcome to the Real World.” featuring the Queen of House Music, Adeva, and the Father of Gospel House Music & Legend, Ricky Dillard, with his New Generation Chorale. 

Knuckles played for one year as resident DJ at Genesis in Osaka, Japan. In 2004, he released a 13-track album of original material—his first in over a decade—titled “A New Reality.” In October 2004, “Your Love” appeared in the videogame “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”

In 2004, the city of Chicago named Jefferson Street between Jackson Boulevard and Madison Street Frankie Knuckles Way. The stretch, once home to the Warehouse, was renamed when the city declared August 25, 2004, as Frankie Knuckles Day; the Illinois state senator who helped make it happen was Barack Obama. The following year, Knuckles was enshrined in the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his achievements.

Frankie was featured in the documentary films “Maestro” in 2003, written and directed by Josell Ramos; “The UnUsual Suspects: Once Upon a Time in House Music” in 2005, directed by Chip E.; and “Continental,” a 2013 documentary about New York’s historic Continental Baths.

Openly and proudly gay, Frankie Knuckles eagerly supported many LGBTQ charities and HIV/AIDS programs. He was never shy about proclaiming his love for the Black gay community, which propelled his career into legendary status. In 1996, he was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.

Knuckles continued a grueling schedule of club dates throughout Europe and Japan. He was the featured DJ at London’s Ministry of Sound before flying home to Chicago to rest. Two days later, on March 31, 2014, he suddenly and tragically passed away from Type II diabetes-related complications at age 59.

The music world was shocked, and tributes to the musical genius poured in from around the world. Elton John announced a special fund honoring the late Chicago house music artist to support HIV research in Black communities. The newly-christened Frankie Knuckles Fund would receive donations targeting Black communities in England and the United States to support HIV information, testing, and treatment and operate under the larger Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF), one of the largest private foundations fighting AIDS in the world.

In April 2015, a year after he passed away, Knuckles was honored by Defected Records with a retrospective compilation, “House Masters Frankie Knuckles,” the tracklist for which had been selected by Knuckles before his death. Also, the same month, as a tribute to Knuckles, a version of his song “Baby Wants to Ride” was released by Underworld and Heller & Farley to mark the one-year anniversary of his passing. It went straight to number one on the UK’s first-ever official Vinyl Singles Chart. All proceeds go to the Frankie Knuckles Trust/Elton John AIDS Foundation.

TS MADISON (Transgender Entertainer/Personality/Activists)

Ts Madison Hinton (born October 22, 1977), also known as Maddie, is an American reality television personality, actress, and LGBT activist. With the reality show The Ts Madison Experience, she became the first black trans woman to star in, and executive produce her own reality series. She has appeared in films such as Zola and Bros. She has been a member of the regular judging panel on RuPaul’s Drag Race since the show’s fifteenth season, following several previous appearances as a guest judge. 

Madison rose to fame in 2013 after going viral following the release of a Vine clip titled “New Weave 22 Inches”. The video features her exposing her nude body. Madison was starring in adult films and running a successful production company during this time. On the LGBTQ&A podcast, Madison said she started doing sex work after being fired from multiple jobs for being trans. “I was hell-bent on me not being broke anymore in life. Me not having to worry about where I’m going to live, how I’m going to pay my bills because I came from that time of me having to really worry. And this was a place of security for me.”

After becoming a viral sensation, Madison signed a recording and media contract with Pink Money Records in 2014 and released her first single “Feeling My Fish” shortly after. In 2016, Madison released her debut album, The New Supreme, and appeared with Ellis Miah and RuPaul on the song “Drop.” In 2021, she collaborated with Todrick Hall on the song “DICK THIS BIG.”

With World of Wonder, she starred in two web series, Wait a Minute and Lemme Pick You Up. In 2015, she released her memoir, A Light Through the Shade: An Autobiography of a Queen.

Madison has had roles in the movie Zola, and the upcoming romantic comedy, The Perfect Find, on Netflix. Janicza Bravo, the director of Zola, told The New York Times that she discovered Madison through her viral Vine video, watching it “maybe 20 times in a row…I became kind of obsessed with her.” 

Madison appeared in Bros, “the first gay romantic comedy from a major studio.” According to The Hollywood Reporter, the movie has a “historic all-LGBTQ principal cast.”

Madison has made multiple appearances as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race. In 2019, Silky Nutmeg Ganache played Madison in the Snatch Game episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 11 and won the episode.

In 2021, The Ts Madison Experience debuted on We TV, making Madison the first black trans woman to star in her own reality show. Madison was also an executive producer of the series. On February 2021, Madison shared on a Facebook panel her experiences and knowledge on the erasure of Black trans love. 

In 2022, WE TV announced that The Ts Madison Experience had been renewed for a second season, and Madison’s voice is currently sampled on the song “Cozy” on Beyoncé’s historic 2022 album “Renaissance.”

Later that year, on Labor Day weekend, during the Annual Atlanta Black Gay Pride celebration, Madison was awarded the 2022 Trans Life Awards as Pioneer of the Year for her outstanding contributions and accomplishments in the Black Trans and LGBTQ community.

DWIGHT ALLEN O’NEAL (Director/Producer/Media Mogul)

Dwight Allen O’Neal, born on January 9, 1984, is an influencer, LGBTQ activist, multimedia director, producer, and personality. He has created and produced television/film projects for Bravo TV, MTV, and Here TV. Dwight added best-selling author to his list of accomplishments when he wrote Shoulda! Coulda! Woulda! in 2020, and again in the Fall of 2021, when writing his sophomore novel Collar Confessions, which was also adapted into a scripted television series for Here TV. 

Born the youngest of three children in Little Rock, Arkansas, to Dwight O’Neal, a cowboy, and his mother, Christell O’Neal, who works in the medical field, Dwight attended John L. McClellan Magnet High School, where he graduated with honors in 2002. O’Neal was active as the vice president of the student council, the treasurer of the Future Business Leaders of America, president of the drama club debate team, and a participant in the Boys State and Student Congress. Following high school, O’Neal enrolled at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy, where he studied musical theater.

O’Neal began working in New York as a model and actor, and appeared in many fashion shows, ad campaigns for Hitch and YJ Stinger Power Drink, and in music videos for various rising artists, including Young Gunz, Cassidy, and Jamie Foxx. He created and founded Off the Clock Productions, which produced the legendary series, “Christopher Street” and “CockTALES The Series.” Off The Clock also delivered the Off-Broadway play, “5 Seconds to Air.” In addition to being a featured actor in “Christopher Street” and “CockTALES The Series,” he was a principal character in “Melody Set Me Free” in 2009.

During that time, Dwight was also a celebrity makeup artist who served as the key artist for the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in 2008 and has worked with fashion designer Julia Haus, actress Leighton Meester, and supermodel Josie Maran, among others. He also successfully modeled for Mosiah Clothing Company, a Jamaican clothing line that hired him as the face of their campaign.

O’Neal was active in the New York City AIDS Walk and has supported FACES NY and Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD). He created “The Beyond the Street Tour” as an outreach program that used the popularity of “Christopher Street” to interact with young audiences at previews throughout the United States and Canada. 

In October of 2021, during the pandemic, Dwight wrote and produced the acclaimed “Collar Confessions” series. It was such a hit that Here TV reached out to him and his production company Novo Novus Productions, to produce a second scripted series. Debuting later in 2023, Dwight has co-written and executive produced a new thriller for Here TV entitled Go Go, a sexy submissive series that explores a murder that happens at an NYC gay go-go bar. 

Also during this time, he co-produced and directed the highly anticipated documentary, “Being Black in Porn,” which was awarded best documentary at the Reelout Queer Fest 2022, Lightbox International Film Festival 2022, and Airflix Film Festival 2022. This groundbreaking documentary follows the lives of four gay men of color as they navigate their way in the competitive and often complicated adult film industry as men of color.

Dwight is currently the face of the #2 ranked app in the US, Bigo Live, and hosts their exclusive daytime talk show “Good Morning Bigo,” where he has filled the shoes of Wendy Williams by delivering hot topics, celebrity gossip, and news within the app. The app presented its Global Gala Award at Paramount Studios in July 2022, and Gia Gunn and Dwight Allen O’Neal hosted the event. Summer of 2022, Dwight also served as a celebrity judge for Slay Model Search series that follows several top trans models competing for a modeling contract with Slay Model Management. 

At the beginning of 2023, Dwight was inducted into the Annual Hall of Fame of Meak Productions Inc. in honor of his 10th anniversary of being associated with the Agency since 2009.

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