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date: 27 January 2022

Pointer Sisters, The.free

Pointer Sisters, The.free

  • Daniel Donaghy

Ruth Pointer (19 Mar. 1946– ), Anita Pointer (23 Jan. 1948– ), Bonnie Pointer (11 July 1950–8 June 2020), and June Pointer (30 Nov. 1953–11 Apr. 2006), musicians. June, Bonnie, Anita, and Ruth Pointer were born in West Oakland, California to Reverend Elton Pointer and Sarah Pointer. Their parents banned them from listening to the blues and rock and roll, from using makeup and nail polish, and from associating with boys. They were attracted, however, to the freedom suggested in the secular music they heard in their friends’ houses, where they listened to Elvis Presley and others and watched American Bandstand and the Ed Sullivan Show. While their earliest performances, as one might expect, were in the church choir (at the West Oakland Church of God in Christ), they aspired to explore a wider variety of music. After attending Oakland Technical High School, the youngest sisters, June and Bonnie, formed a duo called Pointers, a Pair and began playing local clubs. Anita soon joined her sisters and the trio became known as The Pointer Sisters. Around this time, June, then only thirteen, began a struggle with substance abuse that would last the rest of her life. The sisters worked as backup singers for, among others, Boz Scaggs, Taj Mahal, and Walter Bishop. After one performance with Bishop, they were offered a recording contract with Atlantic Records, which released The Pointer Sister’s first two singles to modest success in 1971–1972. Oldest sister Ruth joined in December 1972 as the group switched over to ABC Records affiliate Blue Thumb Records, with which they released five albums between 1973 and 1977, blending gospel, country, rhythm & blues, pop, and fusion jazz. In addition to its sound, the group stood out for the way it looked. Ruth told The New Black Magazine in 2011 that the group gathered its onstage clothing “from our mom’s friends, the garages, the attic, the thrift stores,” to reflect the Pointer family’s humble upbringing.

The group’s first hit was “Fairytale,” a country song written by Bonnie and Anita that reached number 13 on the pop charts and number 37 on the country charts. The song’s crossover appeal earned them a performance at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry (the first African American vocal group to perform there), as well as a 1975 Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. They also enjoyed success with “Yes We Can Can” and “Going Down Slowly,” both written by Allen Toussaint; “How Long (Betcha Got a Chick on the Side)”; and “Wang Dang Doodle,” written by blues musician Willie Dixon and first performed by Howlin’ Wolf.

The group became a de facto trio in 1976, when June took a hiatus to address personal struggles. It remained so after she returned the next year and Bonnie left to pursue a solo career. Through the late 1970s and into the 1980s, The Pointer Sisters continued to achieve chart success and cover new musical ground. Its 1978 cover of Toussaint’s “Happiness” reached number 18 on Billboard’s Dance/Disco charts disco charts; their 1980 song “He’s So Shy” reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 26 on the Dance Club Songs chart; and its cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire,” a sultry, Elvis-influenced track, reached number 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. “Fire” was the first single that the group released as the trio of Anita, June, and Ruth and after it moved to Planet Records. The Pointer Sisters broke new artistic ground the next year, placing four synthesizer-driven dance songs in Billboard’s Hot 100 Top Ten (“Automatic,” “Jump (For My Love)”, a remix of “I’m So Excited,” and “Neutron Dance” from its 1983 album Break Out, for which it earned two more Grammys.

The group released more five albums throughout the rest of the 1980s and 1990s, last charting with the album Contact (which reached number 25 on the Billboard pop album charts) and “Dare Me” a single from that album that reached number 11 on the Billboard Top 100 charts. Their last album was Only Sisters Can Do That. June Pointer passed away of lung cancer on 11 April 2006 at the age of fifty-two. She was replaced on the group’s final album by Issa Pointer, Ruth’s daughter. Bonnie Pointer passed away as a result of cardiac arrest on 8 June 2020. The current incarnation of The Pointer Sisters, featuring original members Anita and Ruth along with Issa and Sadako Pointer, Ruth’s granddaughter and Anita’s grand-niece, continues to perform throughout the world.

Bibliography

  • Arena, James. Legends of Disco: Forty Stars Discuss Their Careers. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2016.
  • Pointer, Ruth. Still So Excited!: My Life as a Pointer Sister. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2016.
  • Mellers, Wilfred. Angels of the Night: Popular Female Singers of Our Time. New York: B. Blackwell, 1986.