The Pointer Sisters are an American R&B recording girl group from Oakland, California that achieved mainstream success during the 1970s and 1980s. Spanning over three decades, their repertoire has included such diverse genres as pop, disco, jazz, electronic music, bebop, blues, soul, funk, dance, country and rock. The Pointer Sisters were inducted onto the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The group had its early origins when sisters June and Bonnie Pointer began performing in clubs in 1969 as "Pointers, a Pair". The line-up grew to a trio when sister Anita Pointer joined them. They scored a record deal with Atlantic Records and released several unsuccessful singles. The trio grew to a quartet when sister Ruth joined in December 1972. They then signed with Blue Thumb Records, recorded their debut album, and began seeing more success. The group achieved its greatest commercial success as a trio during the 1980s consisting of the line-up of June, Ruth, and Anita. Bonnie had left the group in 1978 to commence a solo career with only modest success.
History[edit source | edit]Edit
Early days[edit source | edit]Edit
As children in West Oakland, the Pointer sisters and brothers were encouraged to listen to and sing gospel music by their parents Reverend Elton Pointer and Sarah Pointer. However, they were told rock and roll and the blues were "the devil's music", and it was only when they were away from their watchful parents that they could sing these styles. They regularly sang at the Church of God in Christ in West Oakland, but as the sisters grew older their love of other styles of music began to grow. When June, the youngest sister, brought home a copy of the Elvis Presley record All Shook Up, she was surprised that her mother allowed her to play it, until discovering that her mother had been pacified by the song "Crying in the Chapel" on the "B" side of the record.
After leaving school Ruth, the oldest sister, was already married with two children Faun (born 1965) and Malik (born 1966), Anita, the second oldest sister, also was married with a child Jada. Bonnie, the third oldest sister, and June sought a show business career and they formed a duo, "Pointers, A Pair". Later, Anita quit her job to join the group. They began touring and performing and provided backing vocals for artists such as Grace Slick, Sylvester James, Boz Scaggs and Elvin Bishop, and it was while supporting Bishop at a nightclub appearance in 1971, that the sisters were signed to a recording contract with Atlantic Records. The resulting singles that came from their Atlantic tenure failed to become hits but, nevertheless, the sisters were enjoying their newfound recording career. The temptation to join them finally overwhelmed Ruth and, in December 1972, she joined the group. The quartet signed to Blue Thumb Recordsand began to record their first full-fledged album.
Upon signing, they agreed that they did not want to follow the current trend of pop music but wanted to create an original sound that combined jazz music, jazz singing, and be-bop music. In searching of a visual style for their act, they remembered the poverty of their childhood and their ability to improvise, and used their experience to assemble a collection of vintage 1940s clothes from thrift shops, that would comprise their costumes and give them the distinctive look they were searching for.
In 1972, they were asked to record "Pinball Number Count" for a series of educational cartoons teaching kids how to count. It made its debut on Sesame Street in 1977 and was a feature on the show for many years.
They made their television debut performance at the Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles on The Helen Reddy Show. In 1974 they joined Reddy on the track "Showbiz" which appeared on her "Free and Easy" album.
First success as recording artists[edit source | edit]EditThe Pointer Sisters on the cover of theirself-titled debut album, which was released in 1973 and yielded the hit "Yes We Can Can".
Their self titled first album, was released in 1973 and received positive reviews, with the group being lauded for their versatility and originality. The group was backed up at this time by Bay Area stalwarts, the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils. The first single from this album, "Yes We Can Can", reached number 11 on the pop charts, and would go on to establish itself as an R&B classic. The Allen Toussaint penned song had been a small R&B hit for Lee Dorsey in 1970. The album's second single was a cover of Willie Dixon's Blues stomper "Wang Dang Doodle". It reached theR&B top 40 and the group's thrift shop style began to catch on with fans, many of whom would attend their shows in similar attire.
The following year they released their second album titled That's a Plenty. It continued in the jazz and be-bop style of its predecessor but provided one exception that caused a great deal of interest. The song "Fairytale", written by Anita and Bonnie, was a country song that reached #13 on the pop charts, and #37 on the country charts. Based on this success, the group was invited to Nashville, Tennessee where they achieved the singular distinction of becoming the first black female singers to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. In 1975, the quartet won a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "Fairytale". Anita and Bonnie were also nominated as songwriters for the Grammy Award for Best Country Song. The song would later be covered by Elvis Presley.
Their fourth album, Steppin' was released in 1975. Steppin' produced their Grammy-nominated number one R&B single, "How Long (Betcha' Got a Chick on the Side)", which was later sampled by female rap icons Salt-N-Pepa a decade later. The Pointer Sisters also scored another R&B hit from the album with "Going Down Slowly", another Allen Toussaint cover, and in 1976 appeared in the classic blaxploitation film Car Wash. Their song from the movie, "You Gotta Believe", made the R&B top 20 in early 1977.
They were featured on the 1977 album Saffo Music by Italian R&B singer Lara Saint Paul and produced by Leon Ware, with bass by Chuck Rainey, guitar by Ray Parker Jr. and mixed by Bill Conti. It was released in Italy under LASAPA records.
Their last album as a quartet was the Jazz/Funk album Having a Party, released in 1977. Though this album neither produced any major hits nor had strong sales, it did feature the Bonnie-led "Don't It Drive You Crazy," which would become a cult hit in the UK as part of the Rare Groove phenomenon.
The quartet becomes a trio[edit source | edit]EditThe Pointer Sisters on the cover of their 1978 album, Energy, which revived their popularity with their cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire".
By 1977, both June and Bonnie had left the group. June wanted to take a break and Bonnie left to start a solo career. Bonnie married Motown Records producer Jeffrey Bowen in 1978. She subsequently signed a contract with Motown and this led to a brief moderately successful solo career. Her first self-titled album produced the disco song "Heaven Must Have Sent You". The album was produced by Jeffrey Bowen (her husband at the time) and Berry Gordy. The song became a top 20 pop hit in September 1979.
On January 22, 1978, Ruth had given birth to her second daughter and, now a duo, Ruth and Anita cut back their schedules and concentrated on raising their families. They began talking about the future of the group and what direction it should take. They agreed to dispense with the 1940s nostalgia and go in a contemporary direction. Later in July of that year, June married William Oliver Whitmore II.
The two sisters now signed a deal with producer Richard Perry's Planet Records, which was distributed by Elektra Records. After contributing guest vocals on the group's cover of Sly Stone's "Everybody Is A Star", June was convinced to return to the group, making it a trio. With Perry, the trio began working on an album of west coast soft rock which was released in 1978 with the title Energy. The first single, a cover version of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire" climbed to #2 on the US singles charts in early 1979, and a third Allen Toussaint cover, "Happiness", also charted.
In 1979 they released an album with a harder edged rock sound entitled Priority, and while it was not a huge commercial success, it received very positive critical reviews and further strengthened the group's reputation for being versatile.
The height of their success[edit source | edit]Edit
Over the next few years they achieved their greatest commercial success and continued to demonstrate their versatility. In 1980 the soulful pop single, "He's So Shy", reached number three on the charts, and the following year a slow, sultry ballad, "Slow Hand", reached number two. The follow-up, "Should I Do It" was classic girl-group. Richard Perry then switched distribution of Planet to legendary RCA Records in 1982. The first release from this new union was "American Music", a patriotic-themed, modernized take on the girl-group sound while "I'm So Excited" was an influential, exuberant dance track. All these singles were significant hits in the US and were also successful in Australia, where all but "American Music" reached the Top 20.The Pointer Sisters on the cover of their landmark release, Break Out. Released in 1983, the album would go on to become the group's biggest seller to date.
In 1983, the Pointer Sisters released what became their biggest-selling album ever with Break Out. That year Ruth became a grandmother for the first time. With the advent of MTV the sisters were able to exploit their visual style and extend their audience. In 1984 they achieved four Billboard Hot 100 top 10 singles in a row. "Automatic" reached #5; "Jump (for My Love)" reached #3; a remix of "I'm So Excited" was added to the album almost a year into its shelf life and reached #9; and another single from the album, "Neutron Dance", also featured on the Beverly Hills Copsoundtrack, reached #6.
"I Need You" had been the lead single from the album, and was a significant R&B hit, peaking at #13 on the Black Singles charts. The album's last single, "Baby Come And Get It", did well on the Black Singles charts too but missed cracking the pop Top 40 by a hair. (It would be brought to life again in the next millennium through its use in Burger King television commercials.) They received Grammy Awards for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "Jump (For My Love)", and Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices for "Automatic". These songs also followed "Slow Hand" into the UK Top 10, with "Automatic" peaking at number 2 in that country.
These Planet singles marked the end of their run of Top 10 hits in the US, with their subsequent RCA releases "Dare Me" in 1984 (the Sisters' last Australian Top 10 hit), and "Goldmine" in 1986, reaching numbers 11 and 33 respectively. In 1985 Ruth became a grandmother for the second time.
The sisters eventually left RCA Records to record for Motown and then SBK, releasing several group albums and individual solo albums along the way, but these projects did not achieve the level of success of their earlier work.
Subsequent years[edit source | edit]Edit
In recent years the sisters have maintained a lower public profile but have continued to perform. Anita became a grandmother in 1990 when her only child Jada gave birth to Roxie. On September 8, 1990 Ruth married a man named Michael Sayles (born 1957). The sisters entertained US troops in the Persian Gulf in 1991 with Bob Hope. By 1991, June Pointer had ended her thirteen-year marriage to William Oliver Whitmore II. In August, 1993 at age 47 Ruth Pointer gave birth to twins Ali and Conor Sayles. In 1994, the Pointer Sisters were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and began touring with a production of the Fats Waller-based musical Ain't Misbehavin'. In 1995 Pointer Sisters recorded "Feel for the Physical" as a duet with Thomas Anders (of Modern Talking fame) for his album Souled. They were also one of the featured acts at the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.
In 1995-96 the Pointer Sisters returned to their original jazzy incarnation touring nationally in Ain't Misbehavin': during this tour issues with June Pointer came to the fore as June Pointer missed many performances - understudy Wendy Edmead replaced her on these occasions - and in 2002 Ruth Pointer's daughter Issa Pointer began performing with the Pointer Sisters in June Pointer's stead. On June 9, 2002 June Pointer and Bonnie Pointer performed as a duo on the bill at the San Jose Gay Pride Celebration the pair having been recruited by a promoter who had failed to recruit the official Pointer Sisters trio for the event: the June/Bonnie Pointer duo's appearance at San Jose Pride was promoted as a "Pointer Sisters" gig with pictures of June Pointer performing with Anita Pointer and Ruth Pointer utilized in its promotion, causing Anita Pointer and Ruth Pointer to sue the promoter and other affiliates of the June/Bonnie Pointer duo's San Jose Pride gig (neither Bonnie Pointer nor June Pointer was named in the suit). Bonnie Pointer and June Pointer subsequently performed as a duo at other Gay Pride celebrations and participated in the Get Up 'n' Dance discomusic tour in the summer of 2003, the duo being officially billed as "Bonnie and June Pointer, formerly of the Pointer Sisters".The Pointer Sisters in a performance for cancer research
In 2004 Issa Pointer officially replaced June Pointer in the Pointer Sisters trio being featured on the live album The Pointer Sisters - Live in Billings recorded April 2004 at the Alberta Bair Theatre in Billings MT. The first studio recording by the Pointer Sisters to feature Issa Pointer was "Christmas in New York" recorded in the summer of 2005 for release for the multi-artist seasonal release Smooth & Soulful Christmas Collection on YMC Records: "Christmas in New York" afforded the Pointer Sisters their last appearance on a Billboard chart to date, the track reaching #21 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. The group's next recording was a remake of the Eurythmics' "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" recorded with Natalia: this track spent sixteen weeks in the Top 20 of Belgium's Flemish chart from October 2005 with a peak of #2. In 2008 Anita Pointer, Ruth Pointer and Issa Pointer recorded the last Pointer Sisters album to date The Pointer Sisters Favorites consisting of remakes of ten of the group's biggest hits: recorded in response to the group's failure to receive royalties from the inclusion of any Pointer Sisters' hits on multi-artist hits compilations, "...Favorites" has been sold exclusively at the group's live gigs and at the website ThePointerSisters.com .
In recent years many Pointer Sisters songs have been covered by contemporary artists, such as "Jump (for My Love)" by Girls Aloud, which reached number two at the UK singles chart in 2003, "Dare Me" was turned into the dance smash "Stupidisco" by Belgian DJ Junior Jack, indie band Le Tigre covered in 2004 "I'm So Excited" on their third album This Island, and French DJ Muttonheads sampled "Back In My Arms" on his 2005 club hit "I'll Be There". Most recently in 2007, Tommy Boy recording artist Ultra Naté has released a dance-pop cover of "Automatic" that reached #1 at the US Hot Dance Music/Club Play charts. In 2005, "Pinball Number Count" was re-edited for Coldcut's Ninja Tune label, becoming a surprise dance hit. The same song has also been remixed by Venetian Snares of the Planet Mu record label.
The Pointer Sisters have maintained a high international profile as performers: in 2002 they participated at the annual Night of the Proms, a successful series of concerts combining pop and classical music, taking place in the Benelux, France and Germany: the Pointer Sisters received the highest audience ratings of all participating Night of the Proms acts in 2002. In January 2006 the Pointer Sisters concert collaboration with Natalia resulted in ten sold out dates in Antwerp with the "Natalia Meets The Pointer Sister" concerts, selling out 130.000 tickets for the 10 date concert run.
On June 7, 2006 Anita Pointer guest-starred on Celebrity Duets singing with Olympic gymnast Carly Patterson on "I'm So Excited": on the following night's results show the duo's encore was "Jump (For My Love)".
Since August 2009 Ruth, Anita and Bonnie Pointer have reunited. On August 4, 2009 they stopped by The Kibitz Room at Canter's in Los Angeles and jammed with the band and Ruth's son Malik Pointer. They sang "Fire," "Yes We Can Can," and "Going Down Slowly." On November 4, 2009, The Pointer Sisters played "I'm So Excited" and "The Neutron Dance" on CBS morning show The Early Show with Ruth's granddaughter, Sadako Johnson. Issa Pointer is currently pursuing a solo career.
In November 2011 the Pointer Sisters toured Australia and played one gig in New Zealand with a lineup consisting of Ruth Pointer, Sadako Johnson and Issa Pointer; the last-named was a last minute and presumably temporary replacement for Anita Pointer, who did not feel up to travel due to an unnamed health concern. (Sources close to Anita Pointer have denied the assertion by Bonnie Pointer that Anita has been diagnosed with cancer.)Ruth Pointer, Sadako Johnson and Issa Pointer were also the personnel for a February 11, 2012 Pointer Sisters concert in Metairie LA. At the July 6, 2012 Essence Fest show in New Orleans, Anita Pointer had rejoined the group, the lineup for that concert being Ruth and Anita Pointer and Sadako Johnson. In an August 2012 interview Ruth Pointer stated: "Anita has had some health issues recently so we try to give her a break when she needs it. When that happens we bring my daughter [Issa Pointer] in to fill in for her." At most recent Pointer Sisters concert, performing with the Columbus Symphony on June 14 2013 (and filling in for Chaka Khan with a week's notice), the lineup was Anita, Ruth and Issa Pointer.
The Pointer Sisters were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2005.
Vice City Dance[edit source | edit]Edit
In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the Malibu club in the game featured a Village People tribute in which they danced to "Automatic". This dance involved the dancers crossing the hands by their knees for two beats then raising the roof for another two.
Tragedy and controversy[edit source | edit]Edit
In November 2000, the sisters lost their mother Sarah; in 2003, sister Anita lost her only child Jada to cancer. Jada was the subject of the 1973 song "Jada". On April 11, 2006, June Pointer died of lung cancer. Sisters Bonnie and Anita rushed to the hospital to see June, but when they arrived at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California, she had already passed away. According to an official family statement she was surrounded by her sisters Ruth and Anita as well as brothers Aaron Pointer and Fritz. On May 4, 2006, sister Bonnie appeared on Entertainment Tonight saying the other sisters had not fulfilled the burial wishes for June, instead having her cremated because it was cheaper. Bonnie also stated the sisters had not let her ride in the family car at the funeral. Anita and Ruth responded that Bonnie had demanded to be let back into the group and was upset that she had not been allowed to rejoin it, and that June had left no instructions for her burial. The sisters seemed estranged from Bonnie until she joined Anita Pointer on the Idol Radio Show in 2007.
Bonnie Pointer was arrested for allegedly possessing crack cocaine on November 18, 2011, in South Los Angeles, after the car she was riding in was pulled over for a mechanical malfunction.