The Pointer Sisters
|Pointers, a Pair|
|Origin||Oakland, California, U.S.|
The Pointer Sisters are an American R&B singing group from Oakland, California, that achieved mainstream success during the 1970s and 1980s. Spanning over four 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 have won three Grammy Awards and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994. The group had 13 US top 20 hits between 1973 and 1985.
The group had its 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 joined them. They got 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, winning a Grammy Award in 1975 for Best Country Vocal Performance for "Fairytale" (1974). Bonnie left the group in 1978 to commence a solo career with modest success.
The group achieved its greatest commercial success as a trio during the 1980s consisting of the line-up of June, Ruth, and Anita, winning two more Grammys for the top 10 hits "Automatic" and "Jump (For My Love)", both from 1984. The group's other U.S. top 10 hits are "Fire" (1979), "He's So Shy" (1980), "Slow Hand" (1981), the remixed version of "I'm So Excited" (1984), and "Neutron Dance" (1985).
June Pointer, the youngest sister, struggled with drug addiction for much of her career, leaving the group in April 2004 prior to her death from cancer in April 2006, at the age of 52. She was replaced by Ruth's daughter Issa Pointer. This trio had a number two hit in Belgium in 2005, covering "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" with Belgian singer Natalia. Between 2009 and 2015, the group consisted of Anita, Ruth, Issa, and Ruth's granddaughter Sadako Pointer. While all four women remained in the group, they most often performed as a trio rotating the lineup as needed. In 2015, Anita was forced to retire due to ill health, leaving Ruth the sole member of the original sibling line-up.
In December 2016, Billboard magazine ranked them as the 80th most successful dance artists of all-time. In December 2017, Billboard ranked them as the 93rd most successful Hot 100 Artist of all-time and as the 32nd most successful Hot 100 Women Artist of all-time.
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 a local Church of God in Christ congregation 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 1957 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 "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" on the "B" side of the record.
The sisters graduated from Oakland Technical High School: Ruth in 1963, Anita in 1965, and Bonnie in 1968. After leaving school, oldest sister Ruth 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, the youngest, 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. 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 fledgling recording career. One recording, however, has become a Northern Soul classic: "Send Him Back" (Atlantic 45 2893). Concentrated at Wigan Casino around 1973-1974, Northern Soul was an underground music scene comprising American 45 rpm records released at the same time as Tamla Motown and imported into the United Kingdom. "Send Him Back" remains a favorite with the worldwide Northern Soul audience. Ruth finally gave in to the temptation to join them, joining the group in December 1972. The quartet signed with Blue Thumb Records and 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 bebop music. Searching for a visual style for their act, they remembered the poverty of their childhood; using their experience and ability to improvise, they assembled a collection of vintage 1940s clothes from thrift shops, comprising period costumes to give them their distinctive look.
In 1976, they were asked to record "Pinball Number Count" for Sesame Street, which was a series of educational cartoons teaching kids how to count. It made its debut 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.
The group's self-titled first album, featuring the backing of Bay Area stalwarts the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils, was released in 1973 and received strong reviews, with the group being lauded for their versatility and originality: its first single "Yes We Can Can" - an Allen Toussaint-penned song which had been a minor R&B hit for Lee Dorsey in 1970 - afforded the Pointer Sisters the first chart hit reaching #11 on the Billboard Hot 100, while both "Yes We Can Can" and the follow-up single: the Willie Dixon cover "Wang Dang Doodle" were major R&B hits with respective R&B chart peaks of #12 and #24. The Pointer Sisters thrift shop style also made them fan favorites; many audience members of the group's live shows being dressed similarly to the group's members.
The Pointer Sisters' second album, the 1974 release That's a Plenty, continued in the jazz and be-bop style of its predecessor but provided one exception that caused a great deal of interest: "Fairytale", written by Anita and Bonnie Pointer, 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 distinction of becoming the first Afro-American group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. In 1975, the Pointer Sisters won a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal with Anita and Bonnie Pointer also receiving nominations for the Grammy Award for Best Country Song as songwriters of "Fairytale". The song would later be covered by Elvis Presley.
Subsequent to the live double album Live at the Opera House - a recording of April 21, 1974 Pointer Sisters concert at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco - the group's third studio 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 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 film Car Wash with their song from the movie: "You Gotta Believe", making the R&B top 20 in early 1977.
The Pointer Sisters 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.
November 1977 saw the release of the jazz-funk oriented Having a Party which would be the final album release featuring the Pointer Sisters in their original four-woman format. It was only on the title cut that all four members sang; the album's other cuts featured Anita, Bonnie, and Ruth, but not June Pointer. Recorded in 1976 the album's release was so delayed as to cause an eighteen-month gap between Having a Party and the precedent Pointer Sisters' album Steppin' - the compilation album The Best of the Pointer Sisters had been issued in July 1976 - and without the impetus of a major hit single the Having a Party album itself caused scant commercial interest. One track, "Don't It Drive You Crazy" with Bonnie Pointer on lead, would become a cult hit in the UK as part of the rare groove phenomenon.
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 Berry Gordy and husband Jeffrey Bowen. The song became a top 20 pop hit in September 1979.
On January 22, 1978, Ruth gave 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. In July of that year June married William Oliver Whitmore II.
The two sisters then 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 persuaded 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, the trio released an album with a harder-edged rock sound, entitled Priority.
Over the next few years, The Pointer Sisters achieved their greatest commercial success. In 1980 their single "He's So Shy", reached number three on the charts, and the following year a ballad, "Slow Hand", reached number two. The follow-up, "Should I Do It," featured a classic girl-group sound. Richard Perry then sold Planet to RCA Records in 1982. The first release from this new union was "American Music", a patriotic-themed, modernized take on the girl-group sound, featuring an early version of "I'm So Excited". All these singles charted in the US and were also successful in Australia, where all but "American Music" reached the Top 20. The Sisters also made a guest appearance on the sitcom Gimme a Break! in the episode "The Return of the Doo-Wop Girls".
In 1983, the Pointer Sisters released Break Out. With the advent of MTV, videos of the Sisters' songs began to be played in heavy rotation. 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 "Neutron Dance", also featured on the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, 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 did not make the top 40. 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. Following this, the group performed on the famous "We Are The World" song/music video, alongside such legendary artists as Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder.
These Planet singles marked the end of their run of Top 10 hits in the US, with their subsequent RCA releases "Dare Me" in 1985 (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.
In 1987, the Pointer Sisters starred in an NBC primetime special titled "Out All Night," which opened with footage of them performing "Jump" at one of their concerts, and which then followed the trio as they socialized and performed around the L.A. night scene. The special, which featured guest appearances by Bruce Willis, the McGuire Sisters, and Whoopi Goldberg, was also nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. The sisters also were featured in a lavish Diet Coke commercial, which aired during the program, and which presented them singing a soulful jingle about the soda.
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.
Ruth became a grandmother as "Break Out" reached success; 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. 1994 saw the release of the Various Artist album Rhythm, Country and Blues which featured duets of country artists with R&B artists; this album contains a duet with the Pointer Sisters and Clint Black together on the classic song "Chain of Fools". Also 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 disco music tour in the summer of 2003, the duo being officially billed as "Bonnie and June Pointer, formerly of the Pointer Sisters".
In fall 2002, the Pointer Sisters played the Night of the Proms tour in Europe marking the inauguration of Issa Pointer, the daughter of Ruth Pointer, as the replacement for June Pointer: Ruth Pointer would recall: "We sort of pulled a fast one by waiting until the last minute to inform the promoters of [the] roster change...because we didn't want to give them the chance to change their minds." According to Ruth Pointer "Anita and I had talked for some time about having Issa and [Anita's] daughter Jada [Pointer] alternate in the third spot in the lineup...Issa was chosen [to go] first because she had experience singing solo at a lot of New England-area functions." Issa Pointer's membership in the Pointer Sisters would remain constant until 2009, Jada Pointer who was to alternate with her having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the autumn of 2002 and dying June 10, 2003.
The Pointer Sisters recorded their first album with Issa Pointer rather than June Pointer in April 2004 with The Pointer Sisters - Live in Billings recorded at the Alberta Bair Theatre in Billings, Montana. The first studio recording by the Pointer Sisters to feature Issa Pointer was "Christmas in New York" for YMC Records www.ymcrecords.com 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. Christmas In New York was written by Nathan East and Chris Christian and produced by them. 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 and Ruth 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" was sold exclusively at the group's live gigs and at the website ThePointerSisters.com, but was added to iTunes in 2013.
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)".
On August 4, 2009, Ruth, Anita and Bonnie 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 "Neutron Dance" on CBS morning show The Early Show with Ruth's granddaughter, Sadako Johnson. Issa Pointer is currently pursuing a solo career.
While promoting an October 28, 2010 Detroit gig by the Pointer Sisters - then comprising Anita and Ruth Pointer and Sadako Johnson - Ruth Pointer, asked "Do you [and Anita] plan on recording an album with Sadako?", replied: "Hmm...not really. We talk about it from time to time, but the business has changed so much. It's not like the old days when you just have a record deal and go in the studio and record with a producer and then start promoting." In the same interview Ruth Pointer commented on the Pointer Sister's profile having dropped in recent years: "We've performed a lot in Europe and Asia and Australia, and it's just that we haven't been very visible publicly in the [US]. We still do a lot of corporate parties and private parties because I mean, let's face it, those are the people that are in our own age group and know our songs." 
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. 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 are scheduled to play six Australian dates in May and June 2016  with the lineup of Ruth Pointer, Issa Pointer and Sadako Johnson: recent media reports indicate that Anita Pointer's health issued have necessitated her retiring from the group. In a February 25, 2016 interview with News.com.au Ruth Pointer said of the Pointer Sisters recent live performance history: "I'm almost inclined to call [the group's live engagements] pop-up engagements, not tours. We don't do the tours like we used to do back in the day. We'll leave that to the young folks, out on the road in buses for months at a time....We still have a good time, we do a lot of corporate dates, a lot of casinos, special events, fundraisers, that's our audience. We're so glad [the Pointer Sisters' songs are] still relevant and people still want to hear them being sung and we love singing them."
The Pointer Sisters were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2005.
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.
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, who suffered from drug addiction, died of cancer at the age of 52. According to a family statement, she was surrounded by Ruth and Anita as well as brothers Aaron and Fritz. On May 4, 2006, Bonnie appeared on Entertainment Tonight saying the other sisters had not fulfilled June's burial wishes, 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 rejoin the group and was upset that she had been rejected, and that June had left no instructions for her burial. The sisters seemed estranged from Bonnie until she joined Anita on the Idol Radio Show in 2007.
Bonnie 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. She filed for divorce from Motown Records producer, Jeffrey Bowen, on July 1, 2014. On June 8, 2020, she died at her home in Los Angeles at the age of 69.
The Pointer Sisters contributed to the Children's Television Workshop educational television series, Sesame Street. "Pinball Number Count" was an animated short on Sesame Street designed to teach children to count to twelve. It was originally produced in 1976 by Imagination, Inc. in San Francisco, California for the Children's Television Workshop.
|1974||"Fairytale"||Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group||Won|
|1976||"How Long (Betcha' Got a Chick on the Side)"||Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus||Nominated|
|"Live Your Life Before You Die"||Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group||Nominated|
|1981||"He's So Shy"||Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal||Nominated|
|1982||"Slow Hand"||Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal||Nominated|
|Black & White||Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal||Nominated|
|1985||"Jump (For My Love)"||Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal||Won|
|"Automatic"||Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices||Won|
|1986||Contact||Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal||Nominated|
|1987||So Excited||Best Music Video, Short Form||Nominated|
|1982||The Pointer Sisters||Favorite Band, Duo or Group (Pop/Rock)||Nominated|
|1985||The Pointer Sisters||Favorite Band, Duo or Group (Soul/R&B)||Won|
|The Pointer Sisters||Favorite Group Video Artist (Soul/R&B)||Won|
|1986||The Pointer Sisters||Favorite Group Video Artist (Soul/R&B)||Won|
(quote) The Pointer Sisters' line-up has become so fluid that Ruth is now the only original member. June Pointer was kicked out of the band in 2004 due to ongoing crack cocaine use. While she entered rehab she died in 2006 after a battle with cancer. Anita Pointer left the band after medical issues following chemotherapy left her unable to tour
(quote) June, whose crack cocaine addiction saw her kicked out of the group in 2004, died from cancer in 2006 while medical problems following chemotherapy treatment left Anita unable to tour. Now composed of Ruth, her daughter Issa and granddaughter Sadako, the Pointers Sisters play Jupiters Theatre on May 28