Pointer Sisters (1973—)

views updated

Pointer Sisters (1973—)

African-American high-powered pop group, known for their precise harmonies, funky visuals, and vintage clothes.

Pointer, Anita (1948—). Born on January 23, 1948, in Oakland, California.

Solo album:

Love for What It Is (1987).

Pointer, Bonnie (1950—). Born on July 11, 1950, in Oakland, California.

Solo albums:

Bonnie Pointer (1978); Bonnie Pointer II (1979); The Price Is Right (1984).

Pointer, June (1954—). Born on November 30, 1954, in Oakland, California.

Pointer, Ruth (1946—). Born on March 19, 1946, in Oakland, California.

Selected discography (albums):

The Pointer Sisters (1973); That's Plenty (1974); Live at the Opera House (1974); Steppin' (1975); (without Bonnie) Energy (1978); Special Things (1980); Black and White (1981); So Excited (1982); Break Out (1983); Contact (1985); Hot Together (1986); Serious Slammin' (1988); Greatest Hits (1989); Right Rhythm (1990); Only Sisters Can Do That (1994).

The daughters of ministers, the Pointer sisters—Ruth, Anita, Bonnie, and June—started singing together at the West Oakland Church of God, honing from childhood what has been called a "set-the-house-afire" vocal style. In 1969, Bonnie and June began performing in clubs around the San Francisco area, calling themselves Pointers, a Pair. Anita eventually joined the duo, and, after singing background vocals on several albums, they acquired manager Bill Graham. With Graham's assistance, they backed such performers as Elvin Bishop, Taj Mahal, Tower of Power, Dave Mason, Sylvester, Boz Scaggs, and Esther Phillips .

At a gig at Los Angeles' Whisky-a-Go-Go, the sisters caught the attention of Atlantic executive Jerry Wexler, who signed them to a record contract. Their first single was released to little success in 1972, after which Ruth left her job and joined the group. In 1973, after signing with a new label (ABC's Blue Thumb), they cut another single, "Yes We Can Can"/ "Wang Dang Doodle," which hit both the pop and R&B charts and brought them their first national recognition.

While the Pointers' unique sound, a blend of rock 'n' roll, jazz, gospel, and rhythm and blues, executed in precise four-part harmony, was the

greater part of their appeal, the sisters also put on a terrific live show. "Part of the reaction to the group is due to the visuals accompanying the act," wrote Jim Knippenberg in a 1974 article for the Cincinnati Enquirer. "The girls tap dance, parade around the stage, carry on with all manner of body English and do all of it in wonderfully tacky '30s and '40s outfits."

As their popularity rose, the Pointers toured the country and made guest appearances on a number of television variety shows. They became the first African-American women to perform at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, and the first pop act to play the San Francisco Opera House. In 1974, PBS made a documentary on the Pointer family. Then, between 1975 and 1977, the Pointers had some internal problems; June suffered a nervous breakdown and the group filed a lawsuit with ABC's Blue Thumb for back royalties. In 1977, Bonnie left the group and went solo, signing a contract with Motown. (Bonnie had several hits in 1978 and 1979, before running into legal problems with the label. She did not have another hit until 1984.)

Retrenching, the remaining sisters signed with Planet Records, a collaboration which resulted in a steady string of pop hits throughout the 1980s, including "Fire," "He's So Shy," "Slow Hand," "I'm So Excited," and "Neutron Dance." The group also produced two platinum albums, Break Out and Contact, and in 1987 Anita cut a solo album for RCA called Love for What It Is. By the end of the decade, however, the constant recording and tours had taken a toll, and the sisters took some time off. "Everyone thinks this business is all glamour, but that's not the case a lot of the time," said Ruth, who particularly suffered during the long periods on the road. "After you leave that stage you go to a hotel room by yourself. Sometimes it was very lonely and very depressing. I had to learn to do things to keep my spirits up."

The Pointers returned to the music scene in 1994, with the new album Only Sisters Can Do That, a compilation of 10 songs celebrating the contemporary woman and marking their 20th year in the recording industry. The album, which contains two songs co-written by Anita, "I Want Fireworks" and "Tell It To My Heart," is reminiscent of their earlier work. "We've gone back to what we do best," says Ruth, "which is being ourselves and singing as opposed to trying to keep up with the mainstream and modern technology. We wanted to capture a feeling of pure, raw honesty on this album and I think we succeeded."

sources:

Clarke, Donald, ed. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. London: Penguin, 1989.

Knippenberg, Jim. "Jumping, Jiving with the Pointer Sisters," in Cincinnati [Ohio] Enquirer. May 12, 1974.

Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, eds. The New Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. NY: Rolling Stone Press, 1995.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

About this article

Pointer Sisters (1973—)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article