In 1928, an Orthodox Jewish family named Checz came to America from Poland. They moved to Chicago, living at 1425 South Karlov, in the South Side, where Leonard, the older son, worked with his brother Phil in their father’s junkyard.
The Chess family found a sympathetic neighborhood in the black ghetto. Orthodox prayers, sung in elaborate Hebrew cantillation, found echoes in the blues scales and gospel harmonies of the Chesses’ adopted neighborhood.
As the years passed, the family made modest investments in liquor stores and eventually began running a saloon called the Macamba Lounge, which featured jazz and blues performers.