Miss Zola Taylor:
A Rare Gem in Rock & Roll

An Artist Paper By: Aleisha Sawyer

Miss Taylor:

 Zola Taylor, a famous singer during the 1950s and 1960s transformed the image of women in male quartets in the area of Rock & Roll.

Artist History:

Zola Taylor, also known as Zoletta Lynn Taylor was born in Los Angeles on March 17th in 1938.  She grew with her talented voice and started her career in her early teenage years. Her life is essentially her career. She is most known for her role in the all-male group “The Platters”,  however, her career began prior to this arrangement. She first began singing with an all-female group called “Shirley Gunter &The Queens”. It was formed through a local high school in California where the female group was formed from classmates and friends. This group was formed in 1953 through the Los Angeles Polytechnic High school. While Miss Taylor was apart of this girls group and performed with them, she never recorded any songs with the group. Towards the end of her career, she was allegedly married to Frankie Lymon until his death. After he died she remarried once more but never had any kids. She is survived by her nephews and nieces, but there is very little knowledge and access to the rest of her relatives.

“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

Professional Career

Early Career

As Zola continued to perform in the girl group “Shirley Gunter & The Queens”, she was noticed by Samuel Ram. Samuel Ram was a music producer, songwriter, and also the manager of “The Platters”, an upcoming quartet.  He had moved from New York City to Los Angeles to help produce and capitalize on the original group of “The Platters”. The Quartet was very popular as all-male groups. Mr. Ram thought adding a woman to the group would increase interest and make the group more unique.  She officially joined in 1954. It was also really rare for women to integrate into the same groups as males. Zola’s position as a singer in the musical group was innovative and refreshing as recordings became more popular.  Her great looks and amazing sound made her stand out in the group in a good way, which led to a lot of attention in the music industry and the genre of Rock and Roll.  One of their many greatest hit included a song titled “Only U” and “Twilight Time”. When she was added to the groups, they were also referred to as “The Platters and the Dish” .

Mid Career

Within two years of being apart of the group, “ The Platters” landed their first tour along with another group called “Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers”. It was only one other black group on tour and these two groups became very popular during the tour. They were also able to produce several hit songs, as they slowly become one of the most popular Rock and Roll groups in history. They performed on shows like Good Morning America and Saturday Night Live. They played in front of Black and White audiences both domestically and internationally. In Europe, they performed at the Queen’s inauguration and a private audience with the Pope at the time. The group also had Nine million-selling singles and had 21 Top Ten records. 

Late Career

By 1962, the group dissembled onto separate paths. Miss Taylor was replaced in the new generation of “The Platters” by Barbara Randolph.  Miss Taylor continued singing the group’s hits with another fellow ex-member.  However, the popularity of The Platters began to decline following the success of new groups. Miss Taylor also tried to lead another generation of the group to continue the legacy in the name of The Platters in the 1980s. This new group never took off like the original. Miss Zola Taylor continued to be in the headlines as apart of the scandal with Frankie Lymon as one of his three alleged wives. In 1990 She was accepted into the Hall of Fame of Rock in Roll. During this time she also suffered from a stroke that left her disabled until her death in 2007.

Influences:

Miss Zola Taylor Influences within “The Platters” group was very critical to the success of the group. Her role in the all-male group was instrumental to the music scene because this was a rare occasion for black male quartets. She was the first black woman to be invited into the Platters and one of the first African American Women to enter an Afro- Male group during this time. This sparked an innovation that led to the inclusion of women in male-dominated spaces. Her role allowed for the success of generations of African American Women after her.   This arrangement that because very successful led to her being able to break musical barriers never seen before for Black women. 

Contemporaries:

Little Richard

Richard Wayne Penniman was known for his role in defining Rock and roll starting the 1950s. He had a flamboyant, loud style that was captivating and intriguing to his audience. He grew up playing the piano, which would help him perform in many of his hit songs. He was born and raised in Georgia. He moved to New Orleans to pursue his growing career that led to the construction of his hits such as “Tutti Frutti”. This particular song became a hit and was high on billboard charts across the USA.

The Drifters

 “The Drifters” were an all-male group of four, but also five that were very popular and trendy during the 1950s all the way to the 1970s. They produced Rock and Roll as well as doo-wop music. Before the group became the drifters, they performed as background musicians for Clyde McPhatter  The group had gone through many transitions over the years and had over 20 different members in and out of the group at different times.  This was also a similar set up to the “The Platters”. This group never once introduced a female to a group. The 1960 cohort members of the group also featured Ben E. King, who later on sang the song Stand by me. In 1988 the drifters were awarded to be a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers

 “The Teenagers” were a group of all-male teens a part of Gee Records. It was one of the few groups to have Hispanic, black and white members in the same musical group.  They also performed on tour alongside “The Platters”. The teenagers were formed as a doo-wop group but transition into Rock and Roll during the 1950s. The group was formed at a local high school called Edward W. Stitt Junior High School. The youngest of the group was Frankie Lymon, who joined at the age of twelve. In 1954, one of their hit songs “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” was produced with Frankie as the lead singer. In 1957, the group name changed to “Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers” as a result of the hit song that gave the group a lot of popularity. When Frankie was no longer able to produce a fresh baby voice, he was replaced by a girl in the group in the late 1950s. 

Awards:

Zola Taylor was awarded and inducted into the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” in 1990 for her role in “The Platters”.

Social Involvement:

Zola Taylor &
Frankie Lymon

While Miss Taylor, a famous singer in the public eye, was also very well known for her part in the scandal as one of the three alleged wives of the late Frankie Lymon. Their story became so widespread in the media, a film was produced to explain the story.  Zola and Lymon began dating when they were young teenagers after first meeting during a tour with the groups they were apart of. They were both becoming very famous in their career despite being very young. The two were praised for the light baby sound that produced hit records.  They supposedly got married on October 8, 1965, in Mexico. Two other women claimed they were married to him before and after they got married. She was the second wife of Mr. Lymon. She never had evidence of a marriage license after the wedding, which became problematic when he died. During his sudden death, a lawsuit was formed against another one of his wives to claim the rights to his music and earnings as his widow. Zola was declared not officially his wife. 

 

Why do Fools Fall in Love?

Beyond her Musical career, the social implications of Zola’s involvement in the Frankie Lymon scandal led to the production of a film. It is called “Why do Fools Fall in Love?” The movie discusses the scandal and Zola Taylor’s involvement with Frankie Lymon from the time they were teenagers to his death. Halle Berry stars as Zola Taylor in the film. The movie was released in 1998 as an American romance drama. It was produced by Warner Brothers Pictures and directed by Gregory Nava.

Discography:

The Platters, “Only You” Federal Records  In 1955, “Only You” was listed as number 5 on the pop charts and Number 1 on R&B charts  in America. It was listed as Number 1 single in the United kingdom. 

The Platters. “ The Great Pretender” Federal Records,1955. It was a number 1 single in America and Australia. It was in the top 5 singles in the United Kingdom.

The Platters, “My Prayer”, Mercury Records, 1956. It was number 1 single in America across several charts. It was listed as the number 4 on the charts in the United kingdom and Australia. 

The Platters, “He’s Mine”, Federal Records , 1957.

The Platters, “Twilight Time”, Federal Records, 1958. It was number one single  across several genre charts in America. It was listed in the top three singles in the United Kingdom. 

The Platters. “Smoke Gets in your eyes”, Federal Records, 1958. It was number one single  across several genre charts in America and the United Kingdom.

“She was the cutest little girl and had that spark”

~ Samuel  “Buck” Ram 

Conclusion:

Zola Taylor was an instrumental woman during her era in the music industry. Her presence in “The Platters” led to the entrance of many females in male-dominated groups. It was a risk for women to be invited into all male-dominated groups. Her role could have been easily disapproved of by the audience and music industry. This gave Zola Taylor a lot of pressure that many black men during this time did not have. She was able to gracefully enter this field and became very successful. Her presence put “The Platters” on the map for being a great group. This led to a lot of opportunities for the group by the uniqueness of her presence. Her presence  was a great way to innovate the music scene in African American development. Her beauty and voice contributed to a lot of  the success of “The Platters”. It made the male performers in this group perform better, because Zola Taylor not only encouraged them but made them want to work harder. If she could be placed in addition to males, she could also replace one of the members too. This gave the males a new sense of seriousness when it came to music. Although “The Platters” success began to decline into the 1960s, Zola Taylor greatly ensured that the group was well known and would continue to have a long-lasting legacy. 

Bibliography

Press, The Associated. “Zola Taylor, 69, R&B Singer, Is Dead.” The New York Times, The New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2007/05/02/obituaries/02taylor.html.


“THE PLATTERS.” The Platters Official, www.theplattersmusic.com/original_members/zola_taylor/index.html.
ZolaTaylor, www.turboproductions.org/Platters_homepage.html.


“Zola Taylor.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 3 May 2007, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1550376/Zola-Taylor.html.


Person. “Zola Taylor.” The Times, The Times, 1 Apr. 2010, www.thetimes.co.uk/article/zola-taylor-082n2xrzrvg.


“Frankie Lymon & Teenagers.” Customrodder.forumactif.org, customrodder.forumactif.org/t652-frankie-lymon-teenagers.


“Zola Taylor of the Platters (1938- 2007).” VVN Music, www.vintagevinylnews.com/2007/05/zola-taylor-of-platters-1938-2007.html.


Fontenot, Robert. “The Platters: Bringing Pop Vocal to Rock.” LiveAbout, www.liveabout.com/the-platters-bringing-pop-vocal-to-rock-2521864.


Google Books, Google, books.google.com/books?hl=en.


“Holiday Hop.” OPUS Open Portal to University Scholarship, opus.govst.edu/cpa_memorabilia/249/?utm_source=opus.govst.edu%2Fcpa_memorabilia%2F249.

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