Air Force's ‘Tops in Blue’ Permanently Shut Down

"Tops in Blue," the U.S. Air Force's premier entertainment group, performed last January at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. (Air Force/Krystal Ardrey)
"Tops in Blue," the U.S. Air Force's premier entertainment group, performed last January at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. (Air Force/Krystal Ardrey)

The Air Force is saying goodbye to its famed performance band, Tops in Blue.

The service on Sept. 1 officially shut down the tour group, comprised of 35 active-duty airmen who dabbled in song, dance, music and comedy for families and service members across the U.S. and bases overseas. The announcement was first reported by Air Force Times.

The musical troupe, based at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, has been in limbo since its 2016 season was prematurely canceled.

"Over the last year, submissions to the Air Force's Airmen Powered by Innovation program reflected recommendations to cancel Tops in Blue because of the required manpower and associated cost," according to a December release announcing the season's pause. "Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James noted the topic was often a discussion during her base all-calls with Airmen."

The final curtain call was first leaked via a popular Facebook group page, Air Force amn/nco/snco, which posted a screenshot of another Facebook page announcing the group's end.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek independently confirmed the news to Military.com on Friday.

The shutdown is the latest twist in the long, public debate over whether Defense Department funds should be used to pay for service-specific performances.

Some airmen maintained that the "expeditionary entertainment group" was morale boosting, while others, including lawmakers, said the program wasted funds that could be used elsewhere.

According to Air Force Times, the Air Force budgeted at least $1.3 million for the program in 2015, the group's last tour year.

"Saddened to see Tops in Blue has come to an end," one fan wrote on the official Tops in Blue Facebook page. "We thoroughly enjoyed the performances we were able to attend. Thank you Air Force!"

The group last posted on its page July 5, answering a fan: "Our tour has been cancelled for 2016. We are waiting on word whether this program will continue in the future."

Tops in Blue, founded in 1953, performed for thousands in more than 20 countries.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana2014.

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