By David Arkin: CNJ Correspondent
The military’s premier musical group will bring its tunes to Clovis on Thursday.
Tops in Blue, an all-active duty Air Force special unit made up of talented amateur performers selected for their entertainment gifts, will play at the Doc Stewart Park at 8 p.m. on Thursday.
Gates will open to the public at 6 p.m. with fireworks after the show. The event is free.
Tops in Blue, which has played in Clovis many times over the years, is expected again to attract a crowd.
“It’s a top-notch production you don’t want to miss,” said Deputy Commander James Laquerre of the 27th Services Squadron.
Tops in Blue facts:
• Performed at six World Fairs
• Performed for more than 100 state fairs
• Produced five movies and two albums
• Performed before a single audience of 420,000 people
• Had its TV debut in 1954 on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town”
• Performed in six Bob Hope specials
• Performed before a live and broadcast audience of 110 million at Super Bowl XIX
• Performed before more than 250,000 people at the 2002 Daytona 500
• Unloads and sets up more than 36,000 pounds of equipment per performance
n Features special effects lighting equivalent to 556 lights
• Uses a stage and truss, which are built to fit on six pallets or one truck trailer
• Has featured more than 1,700 airmen in shows during the past 51 years
Tops in Blue will continue its worldwide tour on Friday, playing at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo. It will perform a special Fourth of July show on Sunday at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.
Becoming a member of Tops in Blue is not easy.
Each year, thousands of airmen compete in base talent contests to make it into Tops in Blue. Of the thousands who compete, a group of 35 vocalists, musicians and dancers are selected and are known in the Air Force as “expeditionary entertainers.”
Laquerre said Tops in Blue performers are first class.
“Tops in Blue showcases the top talent in the Air Force,” he said. “These young performers come together from a cross section of the Air Force career fields to form a team whose performance would rival any commercial production.”
Tops in Blue has enjoyed a long, storied history.
It all started in 1953 when Maj. Al Reilly created the Air Force Worldwide Talent Contest in an effort to recognize talented airmen in various entertainment arenas.
Through the contest, Reilly selected talent and produced a show with a troupe of the best Air Force entertainers, which ultimately became known as Tops in Blue.
The debut tour gave 230 shows in 235 days. The first cast entertained more than 320,000 active duty military members and their families.
Soon after Tops in Blue got its start, it started receiving attention from some of entertainment’s top names.
In 1954, Ed Sullivan invited Tops in Blue to perform at Mitchell Air Field in New York.
The Air Force said that by 1958, nearly one million Air Force families had attended a Tops in Blue show.
For all of the 1960s Tops in Blue didn’t tour as it found other mediums of entertainment, such as working in film.
But in 1971, Tops in Blue started touring again. According to the Air Force, the group had to hitch-hike from one base to the next by catching available aircraft to bases that wanted the show.
In that first year back on the road, some 42,000 military members were entertained. Tops in Blue hasn’t stopped touring since.
Last year marked the group’s 50th anniversary.