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September 25, 2017

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Zola Taylor of the Platters dies at 69

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 following several strokes, died Monday from complications of pneumonia at Parkview Community Hospital in Riverside, Calif., said her niece, Zola Taylor Jr.

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 soon 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, they were 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 Los Angeles 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 1960s. She attributed the break-up to the Beatles-inspired upheaval of pop music.

Scandal also may have played a part: The four men in the Platters were arrested on sex charges in Cincinnati in 1959. They were found innocent 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 — each continued to perform with their own groups called the Platters.

"Nostalgia changed everything back," Taylor told The Times in 1990. "Wherever we go, fans brings 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.

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

She is survived by nieces and nephews.

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