The Rise of the Chess Brothers

Photo of Leonard ChessPhoto of Phil Chess

Leonard and Phil Chess (pictured above) were two poor, Polish immigrant brothers who lived in Chicago in the 1940s.  They learned how to run a business while they worked in their father’s junkyard.  Though they were of a low class they had the ambition, drive, and work ethic to work their way to the top.

Cut Rate Liquor2

After Phil and Leonard got out of the junkyard business they opened up a liquor shop called “Cut Rate Liquor”.  People would congregate in the store and discuss the gigs they were playing at and the night clubs that they were going to.  Furthermore, the store was located in a black neighborhood, which got them acquainted with a new type of music called the blues.  While working at this store, the brothers heard a about a club going up for sale called the Macomba Lounge.


The Macomba Lounge was the start of the music business for the Chess brothers.  It was located in the same neighborhood as their liquor store had been and, because it stayed open so late, it tended to attract all sorts of shady people.  Phil was in the armed forces at this time, but when he returned he joined Leonard in running the club.  Unfortunately, in 1950 the club mysteriously burnt down.


While Phil and Leonard were running the Macomba Lounge they also became involved with work for a record company called Aristocrat Records, owned by Evelyn and Charles Aron.  Leonard steadily bought up the company, and when the couple got a divorce he was finally able to gain possession of the whole organization.  The brand released records until 1951,  when it turned into Chess Records.