Chess Records Co-Founder Phil Chess Dead at 95

Phil Chess, co-founder of Chess Records, dead at 95

Phil Chess, the co-founder of Chess Records, passed at 95 on October 18, 2016. His impact on the music industry is immeasurable, as Chess Records played a crucial role in shaping the sound of American music in the 20th century.

Born Filippo Reitano in Ciechanów, Poland, in 1921, Phil Chess and his brother Leonard Chess immigrated to the United States in the late 1920s. In 1950, the brothers founded the legendary Chess Records in Chicago, becoming one of history’s most influential and successful independent record labels.

Chess Records was at the forefront of the Chicago blues scene, recording and releasing the music of artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Etta James. The label also played a crucial role in bringing the music of black artists to a wider, predominantly white audience, helping to bridge the racial divide in the music industry at a time when segregation was still rampant.

In addition to its contributions to the blues genre, Chess Records also played a major role in the development of rock and roll. The label signed artists such as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, who would become legends in their own right. The influence of Chess Records can be heard in the music of countless artists who followed in their footsteps, from The Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin to The White Stripes.

Phil Chess was known for his business acumen and his keen ear for talent, but he was also beloved by the artists he worked with for his kindness and humility. He was instrumental in guiding the careers of some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, helping to bring their music to a global audience and ensuring that their contributions would never be forgotten.

In 2013, Chess Records was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award, recognizing the label’s lasting impact on the music industry. Phil Chess may be gone, but his legacy lives on in the music we listen to today and in the lives of the countless artists he helped to nurture and support throughout his long and illustrious career. Rest in peace, Phil Chess, and thank you for everything you did for music.