Zola Taylor of the famous 50’s R&B group the Platters died on April 30th at age 69. She was the first female to become part of a male R&B male group, helping break down a lot of gender barriers. Afterwards, lots of other R&B groups started adding a female voice. Thirty years after her 50’s heyday, she was at the center of a controversy that would provide grist for a popular Hollywood movie based on Frankie Lymon's numerous liasons.
Back in 1954, unhappy with their lack of success, Platters manager Buck Ram was looking to shake things up. Herb Reed, a Platters member, recommended Taylor--sister of Cornell Gunter of the Coasters---who was singing with a female group. He told Ram that Taylor’s contralto voice would help soften the group’s sound. Ram credited Taylor with providing the spark that put them over the top: "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,"
With her in the line-up "Only You" reached number 5 in 1955, signaling the start of an immensely successful run through 1959, with the Platters racking up 4 no. 1 hits and 16 gold records, including "The Great Pretender", "Harbour Lights", "My Prayer", and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes".
Zora Taylor was immortalized by Halle Berry in the 1998 bio movie "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" based on Frankie Lymon’s convoluted love life. Apparently, she lived with Lymon in L.A. for a time in the 60’s---after she had left the Platters’. Lymon died of a heroin overdose in 1968.
In the 80’s, Taylor and two other women sued Lymon’s estate, each claiming to be his widow. Zora claimed to have wed him in Mexico, but couldn’t document it. Another woman was found to be Lymon’s legal widow.