A history of Tops in Blue

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kali L. Gradishar
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
For nearly 50 years, the Air Force's expeditionary entertainment unit has performed for countless people all over the world. From the United States to Honduras to Japan to the Netherlands, Tops in Blue continuously presents their musical, comedic and dramatic acts to a global audience.

It all began in 1953 when the Air Force Worldwide Talent Contest was created by Retired Col. Al Reilly, a major at the time. The talent contest was fashioned to showcase the talents of Airmen entertainers.

From the chosen top performers from the competition, the talented troupe known as Tops in Blue was born.

"The debut tour traveled on a grueling trek, giving 230 shows in 235 days," providing a fast-paced tour for Airmen since they had to "unpack, setup, do the show, tear down, pack it up and drive/fly to the next place each time," according to the Tops in Blue web site.

In the 1950's, Tops in Blue's standards of performance became known in many households across the nation as they were showcased on the Ed Sullivan show in 1954 and by 1958, nearly one million Air Force family members had experienced the exceptional performing act, as stated in the history section of the site.

But the ensemble didn't only stick to the live performances that they became known for. In 1964, Tops in Blue began the production of films and records, as well as television productions, to exhibit their outstanding performances, according to the site, but in 1971, as the Recreation Director at Air Force headquarters, Heinz Johnson pushed to bring back the live tours.

Many other changes have made their way through the Tops in Blue program, including the separation of the group into two performing acts to better reach the global audience, though that didn't last for long. The two acts became one, once again, in 1993.

Monumental performances for the group include an Independence Day performance in front the Washington Monument for nearly half of a million people, a Garden State Bowl half-time show in New Jersey, and a Super Bowl XIX half-time show in California. The half-time shows not only required the serious efforts of the Tops in Blue cast to assemble, but the assistance of numerous volunteers from the nearby Air Force bases.

Other notable Tops in Blue events include the performance in ten former Soviet Union countries and the selection as the official entertainment for special events honoring the 50th Anniversary of the Air Force in 1997.

After visiting so many countries and Air Force Bases, traveling millions of miles, performing at numerous venues, and being showcased at various functions, both military and civilian, attending the Tops in Blue performance would be a worthwhile effort.

The performance is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights, Wash. No tickets are necessary and bus transportation will be provided from the Deel Community Center on base. The bus will leave at 5:45 p.m. and those riding the bus will be seated prior to general admission.

(Information used in this article is from www.TopsinBlue.com)