Zola Taylor, 69; had a string of R&B; crossover hits in the 1950s with the Platters

Times Staff Writer

Zola Taylor, who was the first female member of the 1950s group the Platters, a Los Angeles-based quintet that was one of rock’s first major R&B; crossover acts, has died. She was 69, according to her family.

Taylor, who had been bedridden after several strokes, died Monday from complications of pneumonia at Parkview Community Hospital in Riverside, said her niece, Zola Taylor Jr.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 9, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 09, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 65 words Type of Material: Correction
Taylor obituary: The obituary in the May 2 California section on Zola Taylor of the R&B; group the Platters said the group had four No. 1 hits and 16 gold records from 1955 to 1960, including “My Prayer,” “Harbor Lights” and two releases based on older songs: “Twilight Time” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” In fact, all four releases were remakes of older songs.

Unhappy with the Platters’ sound in 1954, manager Buck Ram replaced one of the male singers and added Taylor’s contralto voice.

With Taylor in the lineup, the band’s smooth, romantic songs started taking off. “Only You” reached No. 5 in the pop charts in 1955. It was followed by the No. 1 hit “The Great Pretender” in 1956.

“She was the cutest little girl and had that spark. The guys became jealous because Zola was going over so well and they started to work harder,” Ram recalled in the 2000 book “L.A. R&B; Vocal Groups: 1945 to 1965.”


After Los Angeles native Taylor joined the group, it was sometimes referred to as the Four Platters and a Dish.

“She had a baby voice that everyone liked -- a big voice, but there was a sweetness and a little bit of bite to it, which was good,” Steve Propes, co-author of “L.A. R&B; Vocal Groups,” told The Times.

From 1955 to 1960, the Platters had four No. 1 hits and 16 gold records, including “My Prayer,” “Harbor Lights” and two releases based on older songs: “Twilight Time” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

They toured the world and were an international sensation in the late 1950s, according to “Contemporary Musicians” (1999).

Taylor left the Platters when the group disbanded in the early ‘60s. She attributed the breakup to the Beatles-inspired upheaval of pop music.

Scandal also might have played a part: The four men in the Platters were arrested on sex charges in Cincinnati in 1959.

They were found not guilty but many radio stations quit playing their singles, “Contemporary Musicians” recounted.

Taylor and at least two other members -- lead singer Tony Williams and Herb Reed -- continued to perform with their own groups called the Platters.

“Nostalgia changed everything back,” Taylor told The Times in 1990.

“Wherever we go, fans bring old records wrapped up tight for me to sign. Platters music is as big as it ever was.”

Taylor lived in Los Angeles with Frankie Lymon, the doo-wop idol who co-wrote and sang “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” and said she had married him. He was 25 when he died of a drug overdose in 1968.

In the late 1980s, Taylor and two other women claiming to be Lymon’s widow fought over his royalties in court.

Taylor said she wed Lymon in Mexico but could not document it, the Washington Post reported in 1988. Another woman was found to be his legal widow.

“Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” a 1998 film about Lymon and the three women he purportedly married, starred Halle Berry as Taylor.

After suffering a stroke in the late 1990s, Taylor stopped performing.

She is survived by nieces and nephews.

Services are pending.