Trailblazing Platters Singer Zola Taylor Dies

A Lady Amongst Men, Taylor Harmonized on Several Hits

In from LOS ANGELES, Zola Taylor, who broke gender barriers in the 1950s as a member of The Platters , harmonizing with her male colleagues on hits like “The Great Pretender,” has died, her nephew said Tuesday. She was 69.

Zola Taylor, who later gained attention of a different sort as one of three women who claimed to be pop idol Frankie Lymon’s widow, died Monday, said her nephew Alfie Robinson. She had been bedridden following several strokes and died at Parkview Community Hospital in Riverside County from complications of pneumonia, he said.

Founding Platters member Herb Reed said he spotted Zola Taylor, the sister of Cornell Gunter of the Coasters, rehearsing with a girl group in 1955 and knew immediately she had the charisma and vocal chops the R&B group needed.

The all-male group had just signed with Mercury after its single “Only You” topped the charts and its manager thought they needed a female voice to soften their sound.

Still Great: ‘The Great Pretender’

“She was a very pretty young lady and what a great, great smile,” Reed told The Associated Press. “And she had this baby voice that everyone liked.”

“The Great Pretender” raced to the No. 1 spot on both R & B and pop music charts in the U.S. and Europe , according to “The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul” by Irwin Stambler.

“It was a great surprise to everyone,” Reed said. “We were the first Afro-American group to have a girl singer. That was the talk of the nation. All of the sudden, other groups started looking for girls.”


But the Platters’ success began to fizzle after 1959, when four members were arrested in Cincinnati. Reed said he had been out of touch with Zola Taylor since the early 1960s.

Zola Taylor was back in the spotlight in the 1980s when she and two other women all claimed to be Frankie Lymon’s widow and fought over his royalties. Frankie Lymon, a juvenile pop sensation in the 1950s with such hits as “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?,” had died of a drug overdose in 1968 at age 25.

The courts eventually sided with one of the other women. The drama was a focal point in the 1998 Frankie Lymon biopic “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” Halle Berry played Zola Taylor.

Robinson, Zola Taylor’s closest known living relative, said his aunt continued touring with other lesser-known acts until 1996 and wed two other times. Her last husband died in 1982, he said. She had no children.

Baby Boomers…I don’t know about you…but I loved the Platters and still suing their songs today when they come opn the radio. We are losing so mant of the greats, that we associate with our lives and childhood.

Zola Taylor…you will be missed, as will be your voice.

And I will listen for you, when I hear the Angels sing.

Rest in Peace,
~The Baby Boomer Queen~