The Olympics began life in 1954 as The Challengers while still at high school in Compton, California.
Their debut single, Western Movies (1958), reached #8 in the USA and made the UK Top 20, and featured a comic narration about the singer’s girlfriend being addicted to cowboy movies.
Just as The Olympics began to realise real success, tenor Charles Fizer was convicted of drug possession and sent to prison. He was replaced during his incarceration by Melvin King.
In August 1965 South Los Angeles found itself at the centre of a violent racial uprising following the brutal beating of a black family by California Highway Patrol officers. The suburb of Watts was at the very epicentre. The Los Angeles Times reported “rocks flying, then wine and whiskey bottles, concrete, pieces of wood – the targets, anything strange to the neighbourhood”.
The area was declared a disaster area as the LAPD announced they
had lost control of the situation.
On 14 August – the third day of the uprising – Charles Fizer was innocently making his way to an Olympics rehearsal when he was shot by members of the National Guard. He died in the street.
33 other people died on the streets of Watts that week, including Melvin King’s sister (on the same afternoon that Fizer was killed).
Devastated by the events of 14 August, Melvin King played just one more performance with The Olympics before giving it all away. His replacement, Mack Starr, died tragically following a motorcycle accident in Los Angeles in June 1981.
Walter ”Sleepy” Ward