5 Star Story: Peabody rooftop parties

Published: May. 3, 2023 at 11:18 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There’s an event that’s been happening for so long, it’s become a tradition for many Memphians and a legacy for the Peabody Hotel, where it happens every spring and summer.

The South’s Grandest Hotel Rooftop Parties are into their eighth decade, bringing music, fun and sometimes lifelong relationships to those who attend.

High atop the Peabody Hotel in the heart of downtown Memphis is where Memphians and hotel guests alike party their Thursday nights away at rooftop soirees that have a long history.

“(For) 84 years we have been having parties on the rooftop of the Peabody Hotel,” Kelly Brock, Director of Marketing and Communications at the hotel, said.

Brock says the rooftop parties began in 1939 after the east end the roof was enclosed, becoming the Skyway Ballroom.

“And that was when they really started having rooftop parties out on the roof, as well as, parties in here (the Skyway Ballroom) in the wintertime and during the rain. And it was the place to be for big bands and for swing dancers, all of the big national acts. Touring acts performed here for sometimes weeks at a time. You had the Andrews Sisters and Lawrence Welk, you had Ozzie and Harriet, Tommy Dorsey’s band and George Hamilton,” she recalled.

Hamilton--a band leader at the time who performed regularly at the hotels’ rooftop events--also happens to be the father of actor George Hamilton, Jr.

“And George Hamilton, Jr. was actually born here in Memphis and spent weeks as a child growing up here at the hotel, watching his father perform here in the Skyway Ballroom and watching the ducks in the lobby,” Brock said.

The Peabody’s Sunset Serenades, as they were called back then, were also an important part of the entertainment industry as a whole.

“This ballroom and the rooftop were one of the only three live recording sites for CBS radio at the time. So you would hear broadcasts throughout the nation, ‘Live from atop the Peabody Hotel.’” 

Peabody Rooftop Parties of yesteryear
Peabody Rooftop Parties of yesteryear(Peabody Hotel)

But those Sunset Serenades ended briefly in 1975 when the hotel closed, but started up again in 1981 after it was renovated and reopened.

“And eventually we renamed them as Peabody Rooftop Parties and they’ve been going on ever since and they are as popular as ever,” Brock proudly exclaimed.

And though the fashions, music and diversity of attendees are different now than when it all began, some things remain the same, like the live music and deejays.

The Skyway Ballroom is also intentionally maintained to appear as it did back in 1939, from the Lawrence Welk-inspired carpet with a bubble pattern to the lighting.

“You still have the pink neon lighting that you had. It’s very art deco style at the time,” pointed out Brock.

And as she told us, the rooftop is also still one of the best spots in the city to have a drink with friends as you watch the sun set over the Mississippi River while also possibly making a love match so many before.

“There’s fantastic stories from folks that came here in the 1930s, ‘40′s, ‘50′s and there’s people still doing the same thing today: coming up here with their friends, maybe they meet their future husband or future wife. And it’s stories like that are just the heart of the Peabody,” explained Brock.

The Peabody Rooftop Parties are still going strong and welcoming all who attend while making lifelong memories and connections.

The Peabody Rooftop Parties happen every Thursday night, from 6 until 10 through August 10. For more information about the Peabody Hotel or the Rooftop Parties, click here.

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