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TAYLOR: Zola Taylor 30/4/2007

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TAYLOR: Zola Taylor 30/4/2007

Posted: 5 May 2007 11:10AM GMT
Classification: Obituary
Surnames: Taylor
Zola Taylor
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 03/05/2007
The Telegraph.co.uk



Zola TayloR, who died on Monday aged 73, was the first female member of the 1950s group the Platters and, as she was pretty and had a nice smile, was inevitably known as "the Dish".

When Zola Taylor was recruited in 1955 the Platters, founded as an all-male group in 1953, became the first Afro-American group to have a girl singer. Her baby-voiced contralto helped to soften their easy middle-of-the-road harmonies, and the Platters went on to become one of the most successful black groups of the decade, enjoying massive popularity with white audiences.

From 1955 to 1960 they had a string of No 1 hits, including Only You (1955) and The Great Pretender (1956), which became the first song by a black group to reach No 1 in the pop charts. The song was later covered by, among others, Freddy Mercury and Queen, who had a big hit with it in Britain.




The Platters toured Britain in 1957 and again in 1960, when they appeared on Sunday Night at the London Palladium before a television audience of 20 million. They appeared on screen in rock 'n' roll vehicles such as Rock Around the Clock (1956), The Girl Can't Help It (1956) and Rock all Night (1957).

In the later 1950s they hit on the winning formula of updating old standards such as My Prayer, Harbour Lights and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. A promotional film of the Platters performing Twilight Time was released in 1958 and has some claim to be the world's first pop video.

The original group disbanded in the early 1960s, when radio stations began to boycott their records after the group's four male members were arrested in Cincinnati in 1959 and accused of using drugs and having sex with four underage girls, three of them white. All were acquitted, but the judge in the case left an element of doubt by warning the men to behave themselves in future.

In 1984 Zola Taylor became involved in a mini-scandal of her own when she was named in court as one of three women claiming to be the widow of the pop star Frankie Lymon, who had died in 1968 aged 25 from a drug overdose after making his name with the hit song Why do Fools Fall in Love? Zola claimed to have begun an affair with Lymon when the Platters were on tour in the Biggest Rock 'n' Roll Show of 1956, when Lymon would have been just 13.

She claimed to have married him in Tijuana in 1965, but explained that she had forgotten to file the papers. The courts eventually decided in favour of one of the other claimants. In 1998 Zola Taylor was portrayed by Halle Berry in Why do Fools fall in Love? a film about Lymon and the three women whom he purportedly married.

Zola Taylor was born in Los Angeles on March 17 1934 and began her singing career as a member of a girl group, Shirley Gunther and the Queens. In 1955 the Platters' singer Herb Reed heard her in rehearsal and decided she was just what his group needed to give it a bit of extra glamour.

The group had just been signed up by Mercury Records, and their manager, Buck Ram, felt that a female voice would help to soften their sound and differentiate them from their rivals.

Zola Taylor left the Platters in 1962 and was replaced by Sandra Dawn. Later she and two other members of the band performed with their own group called the Original Platters. She continued to perform with lesser-known acts until the 1990s.

Leaving aside Frankie Lymon, Zola Taylor was twice married. Her last husband died in 1982; she had no children.

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