By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Area residents, prepare for a “tops in entertainment” evening coming soon to Clarksburg when many talented airmen known as “Tops in Blue” bring their show to the Nathan Goff Armory on November 11th. What a great way to spend Veterans Day evening!
This group’s longevity is a testament to their talent. The idea sprung from a gentleman named Major Al Reilly, who created the Air Force Worldwide Talent Contest back in 1953. He sought the highest caliber of entertainers of all sorts and selected the “tops” from the competition to produce a show. The first cast entertained over 32,000 active duty military members and their families! Their reputation earned them recognition on the Ed Sullivan show the following year and has continued to earn them accolades on both foreign and domestic soil for the past 60 years.
Tops in Blue has made numerous television appearances, performed on Bob Hope specials and gained even more exposure as a feature for a Super Bowl half-time show in the mid-1980’s! But it is hard to beat their live performances – with a great variety of music … from the expected patriotic tunes to unexpected country, top 40, hip hop, and gospel selections … plus a few surprises that will delight kids in the audience!
Each year the talent competition still takes place, and the search continues for the best of the best. Each year’s touring team spends one year on the road and is replaced the following year by all new talent – and an all new show! The touring team is comprised of 35-40 vocalists, musicians, dancers and technicians, and one interesting thing to note is that they are their own road crew. In other words, the performers themselves load and unload their own equipment, set up the staging, lighting and the whole works!
Skeeter Murray is the Tops In Blue Coordinator, a title she has held since 1993. She noted, “When selected as part of the touring team, these male and female performers go through two to three months of rigorous training learning to set up and take down the show. They load and unload the 60,000 pounds of audio, video, lighting and special effects equipment that are required for each show – that is prior to and following each show! They all pitch in to help; it is a team effort and they all carry their own weight – in addition to learning the show. It is a real commitment to be part of Tops In Blue. They are on the road (mostly on a bus, but sometimes in the air) a lot and can do as many as 230 shows in 235 days, so that gives you an idea of how demanding their schedules are. And don’t forget that this is all voluntary!”
They have also learned packing skills, Murray said. They each live out of “A” suitcase during their travels! Imagine just one suitcase holding all your belongings for travels that may include several months on the road at a time.
It is without a doubt a labor of love for the performers! Murray disclosed that many former members of touring teams “beg” to be brought back to work as coaches and team leaders for future shows. “They truly become a big family,” she said.
Their costuming is phenomenal as well. Tops In Blue is known for a lot of “bling”! However, those are for their touring shows that are performed for the public.
“They are active duty military airmen first, though,” Murray added. “When they are overseas and their travels take them into remote deployed locations, they perform in field gear; however the show is just as effective and inspiring.”
When traveling into a war zone to perform, it is not unusual for the Tops In Blue team to meet with wounded and sing to them cot-side. It is called ‘giving back’. They also do ‘give-backs’ … performing at Veterans hospitals and nursing facilities.
Murray explained one show in particular that she recalls. “Tops In Blue arrived to do a show at one Veterans hospital,” she said, “and I remember the staff of nurses all in tears because one elderly Veteran who was wheelchair bound insisted on standing and walking into the auditorium. He said these soldiers, too, deserved his respect. There are lots of moments like that make their efforts so worthwhile!”
Tops In Blue’s schedule for November includes shows in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Caroline, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Massachusetts as well as Air Force bases in Greenland and Azores. How fortunate is Clarksburg, WV to be able to welcome them on Veterans Day of all days?
Don’t miss this opportunity to see and hear these magnificent Air Force ambassadors! Keep your calendar open on November 11th and take a seat at the Nathan Goff Armory to witness a fantastic show. The Tops In Blue performance begins at 7 p.m.; doors open at 6:15. No tickets are required. The show is free and open to the public.