Zola Taylor, 69, who broke gender barriers in the 1950s as a member of the Platters, harmonizing with her male colleagues on hits such as "The Great Pretender," has died, her nephew said yesterday.
Ms. 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, Alfie Robinson said. She died at Parkview Community Hospital in Riverside County, Calif., from complications of pneumonia, he said.
Founding member Herb Reed said he spotted Ms. 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's manager thought the group needed a female voice to soften its sound.
"The Great Pretender" raced to No. 1 on both R&B and pop charts in the United States and Europe, according to The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul by Irwin Stambler.
"All of a sudden, other groups started looking for girls," Reed said.
The group's success began to fizzle after 1959, when four members were arrested in Cincinnati.
Ms. Taylor was back in the spotlight in the 1980s when she and two other women all claimed to be Lymon's widow and fought over his royalties. Lymon, a juvenile pop sensation in the 1950s with such hits as "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?," died of a drug overdose in 1968 at age 25.