Pointer Sisters

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Pointer Sisters

Pointer Sisters, The , created a unique distillation of improvisatory jazz-style vocals, 1940s-style dress, and campy onstage demeanor that established them as nostalgia entertainers more than recording artists in the mid-1970s. Membership : Ruth Pointer (b. East Oakland, Calif., March 19, 1946); Anita Pointer (b. East Oakland, Calif., Jan. 23, 1948); Bonnie Pointer (b. East land, Calif., July 11, 1946); June Pointer (b. East Oakland, Calif., Nov. 30, 1948); Bonnie Pointer (b.E ast group in 1978.

Performing a highly eclectic repertoire, from R&B to jazz classics and original compositions, they demonstrated remarkable vocal versatility and gained a large cult following. Discarding the old image and material in 1978, the Pointer Sisters enjoyed a revitalized career under producer Richard Perry, particularly with 1983’s Breakout. They scored a series of pop and R&B smashes with contemporary material through 1985, but subsequently languished with RCA and Motown.

The Pointer sisters grew up as daughters of ministers. They first began singing together at the West Oakland Church of God in the early 1960s. They discovered secular material during high school, and Bonnie and June began singing professionally in the late 1960s as The Pointers—A Pair. They were members of Dorothy Morrison’s Northern Calif. State Youth Choir before forming the Pointer Sisters with Anita in December 1969. Stranded in Houston by their first manager, the three contacted San Francisco producer David Rubinson, who arranged their return to the Bay Area. He soon became their manager and found them session work with Cold Blood, Elvin Bishop, Taj Mahal, Boz Scaggs, and Grace Slick. In 1971 they recorded two singles for Atlantic Records, but neither proved successful.

Joined by sister Ruth in September 1972, the four Pointer sisters signed with Blue Thumb Records under David Rubinson, who produced their first three studio albums. Their debut album displayed a striking versatility of vocal talents and a diversity of musical styles and contained the originals “Sugar” and “Jada” as well as the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross classic “Cloudburst.” It yielded a major pop and R&B hit with Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can” and a minor crossover hit with Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle.” Following a successful performance substituting for a canceled act at the Troubadour in Los Angeles in May 1973, the Pointer Sisters frequently appeared on the television shows of Helen Reddy and Flip Wilson.

The Pointer Sisters’ second album, That’s a Plenty, was even more jazz-oriented, containing vocal renditions of “Salt Peanuts” and “Black Coffee,” jazz standards popularized by Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan. The album produced a moderate country and major pop hit with Anita and Bonnie’s “Fairytale,” leading them to be the first black group to appear on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, in 1976. Steppin’ yielded a top R&B and major pop hit with their own “How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side)” and a major R&B hit with Allen Toussaint’s “Going Down Slow”; it also contained Stevie Wonder’s “Sleeping Alone” and “Easy Days,” coauthored with Isaac Hayes. Subsequent releases fared poorly and the Blue Thumb label dissolved, leaving the sisters without a record label.

In 1978 Bonnie Pointer left the others to pursue a solo career on Motown Records. She scored a major R&B hit with “Free Me from My Freedom/Tie Me to a Tree (Handcuff Me)” and a major pop hit with Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Heaven Must Have Sent You” in 1978–1979. However, legal problems with Motown led to the end of her recording career until 1984, by which time her popularity had fizzled; she later recorded for Private Records.

In August 1978 Ruth and Anita Pointer signed with producer Richard Perry’s newly formed Planet Records. They brought June back and recorded contemporary material for their debut on the label, Energy. The album yielded a smash pop hit with Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” and a moderate pop hit with “Happiness,” and its success revived the Pointer Sisters. Subsequent hits through 1982 included “He’s So Shy” and “Slow Hand” (both smash pop and near-smash R&B hits), “Should I Do It,” and “American Music.” Their 1983 album, Break Out, remained on the album charts for two years and yielded six hits, including the pop and R&B smashes “Automatic” and “Jump (For My Love),” and the pop smashes “I’m So Excited” and “Neutron Dance,” the latter featured in the movie Beverly Hills Cop.

The Pointer Sisters’ next album, Contact, produced hits with “Dare Me” (an R&B smash), “Freedom,” and “Twist My Arm.” However, subsequent releases fared less well, and by 1988 the group had switched to Motown Records. June and Anita Pointer each issued solo albums in the late 1980s. The group returned on SBK records in 1993.


THE POINTER SISTERS : The P. S. (1973); That’s a Plenty (1974); Live at the Opera House (1974); Steppin’ (1975); The Best of the P. S. (1976); Having a Party (1977); Retrospect (1981); Yes We Can (1985); Energy (1978); Priority (1979); Special Things (1980); Black and White (1981); Best, 1978–1981 (1993); So Excited (1982); Greatest Hits (1982); Break Out (1983); Contact (1985); Hot Together (1986); Serious Slammin’ (1988); P. S.’s Greatest Hits (1989); Sweet and Soulful (1992); Right Rhythm (1990); P. S. (1993). BONNIE POINTER . Bonnie Pointer (1978); Bonnie Pointer (1979); If the Price Is Right (1984). JUNE POINTER : Baby Sister (1983); June Pointer (1989). ANITA POINTER Love for What It Is (1987).

—Brock Helander