Chess, Leonard(1917–69) recording executive; born in Poland. The founder of Chess Records, he was raised in Chicago, where his immigrant family settled in 1928. In 1939 he and his brother Phil Chess opened the Macombo Lounge, a nightclub catering to African-American patrons on Chicago's South Side. In 1946, the brothers formed Aristocrat Records and recorded several local blues artists, notably Muddy Waters. In 1950, Aristocrat was succeeded by Chess Records, which they operated until its sale in 1968. Throughout its operation, Chess featured the major figures of Chicago blues, including Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Willie Dixon, and this is its chief legacy. But by 1955, it had diversified to include rock 'n' roll pioneers Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, and in the 1960s its most popular artist was the soul singer Etta James. In 1963 he purchased radio station WVON ("Voice of the Negro") in Chicago, and by the time of his death from a heart attack, his firm, L & P Broadcasting, owned additional stations in Chicago and Milwaukee.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.