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Paradise Lost

After 30 years, Raiford's Hollywood Disco closes.



It's the end of an era. A funky, funky era. Raiford's Hollywood Disco, the pride of Vance Avenue and the soul of South Main, is no more.

"I wasn't intending to close when I did," said Robert Raiford, the man who has spent the last 30 years transforming his small dance club into a living, breathing, bumping, and grinding work of art. "I was thinking it would be another 10 days before I closed. But one night I just looked at the barstools and I knew it was time."

Raiford moved to Memphis in 1962 and took a job pumping gas. He worked alongside his brother up front at a time when it was more common to find African Americans working in the grease pits.

In the '70s, Raiford co-owned a body shop with his brothers, and his skills took him from Memphis to Chicago and from Chicago to Wisconsin. But the cold weather didn't agree with him. In 1978, he returned to Memphis and rented the dilapidated building at 115 Vance and began transforming it into the most personalized disco in the world. Even with the colored lights, the thick cherry-scented smoke, and sex-o-matic dance competitions, Raiford's felt less like a club than the cozy private living room of the Avenging Disco Godfather. And in the DJ's booth, Raiford reigned supreme in colorful suits, hats, and James Brown-style capes, spinning classic wax for the generations.

"Since I've closed, I've had a lot of people come up to me. People with young children," Raiford said. "They say, 'I wish you could keep it going until my child is old enough to come to your club.'"

Will Raiford miss all the smoke? The mirrors? All those girls doing the Electric Slide? He plans to spend more time hunting, fishing, and doing the things regular folk do when they retire.

"I don't know what your religion is like, and your religion may not be like mine," Raiford said, looking back over the 10,000 nights he's spent in his own little garden of earthly delights, where the words "No Discrimination" are painted on the wall for all to see. "But when I was in the club and it was full and everybody was having a good time, I couldn't help but feel that that was the way the world was supposed to be all the way back at the beginning of time."

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