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Members include Anita Pointer, born January 23, 1949 (one source says 1948); June Pointer, born November 20, 1953 (one source says 1954), married William Oliver Whitmore (an entrepreneur), c. 1979 (divorced, 1992); and Ruth Pointer, born March 19, 1946. Previous members include Bonnie Pointer, born July 11, 1950. All were born in Oakland, CA, the daughters of ministers. Addresses: Management-- Gallin-Morey Associates, 8730 West Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069.
The Pointer sisters were raised in a strict religious atmosphere by parents who were both ministers at the West Oakland Church of God in Oakland, California. As young girls, Anita, Bonnie, June, Ruth, and their two older brothers sang in the church choir. Irwin Stambler, in his Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, quoted Ruth as having said in 1978, "Our parents naturally, as ministers, wanted to protect us from the bad lives people had led in the blues and jazz worlds. We weren't allowed to go to the movies or hear music other than gospel and TV soundtracks.... In the beginning we had no one to imitate. We'd never heard of the Andrews Sisters or nostalgia," both of which would later become associated with the group.
According to Jet, the senior Pointers were apprehensive about their daughters' choice of careers until "after the turnaround, when [they] had health insurance and money in the bank; then [their parents] could come to the shows and enjoy themselves." Besides the gospel music with which they grew up, the sisters developed a passionate interest in other musical genres, from jazz to rhythm and blues, scat, country, rock, and pop, all of which influenced their music.
Initially a duo featuring Bonnie and June, the Pointer Sisters later became a trio, with the addition of Anita. In the early 1970s the group sang backup for various artists, including Elvin Bishop, Taj Mahal, Tower of Power, Dave Mason, Sylvester, Boz Scaggs, and Esther Phillips. While backing Bishop at Los Angeles's celebrated Whisky-a-Go-Go, the four were spotted by Atlantic Records executive Jerry Wexler, who shortly thereafter signed them to his label. According to Stambler, two unsuccessful rhythm and blues singles for Atlantic Records were heard only in the Pointer living room. In 1972 Ruth joined the group, and as a quartet the Pointer Sisters sang backup on recordings of Bishop's "Don't Fight It, Feel It" and Chicago's "Skinny Boy." Their debut at Doug Weston's Troubadour, also in Los Angeles, established the Pointer Sisters as an independent act. The increasingly popular foursome, buoyed by their initial retro 1940s look, was soon seen on television's Tonight Show and Midnight Special.
In 1972 the sisters were offered a recording deal with ABC/Blue Thumb through the connections of their friend, producer David Robinson. The Blue Thumb debut album, The Pointer Sisters, included the Allen Toussaint rhythm and blues single "Yes We Can Can," which went to number 11 on the Billboard pop chart in 1973. The album was the group's first to be certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, on February 7, 1974.
Despite their frequent categorization as a soul group, the Pointer Sisters were the first African-American female singers to perform on the stage of that bastion of country music, Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. In 1974 they won a Grammy Award for best country vocal performance by a duo or group for "Fairytale," written by Anita and Bonnie, which went to number 13 on the pop chart. With "Fairytale" the Pointer Sisters became the first African-American female group to score a Number One hit on the country chart. The quartet made their movie debut in 1976 as the Wilson Sisters in Car Wash.
Even with their chart-topping and Grammy triumphs, however, the Pointer Sisters lacked consistent success. Because of their wide range of styles, which defied musical categorization, the sisters became typecast as a nostalgia group by their label. In The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul June recalled, "We didn't read contracts in those days and we lived on the road and came home broke. But we enjoyed singing so much we just kept on." Compounding their difficulties, June was plagued in the mid-1970s by a much publicized nervous disorder.
Finally, after a short breakup in 1977, Bonnie left the group to pursue a solo career. Anita, June, and Ruth resurrected the Pointer Sisters in 1978 and began working with producer Richard Perry, who is credited by New Grove Dictionary of American Music author Barry Kernfield as having "emphasized their affinities with soul music." Energy, the debut album on Perry's Planet Records, became the Pointer Sisters' third gold record. The group's first gold single, "Fire," a cover of Bruce Springsteen's smoldering lust song, reached Number Two on the pop chart in 1978. As Kernfield noted, the recipe for commercial success was found in "an appealing blend of pop and soul music."
The Pointer Sisters continued to make musical history with the 1981 album Black and White, which earned them the Billboard title of Rhythm and Blues Group of the Year. The gold single "Slow Hand" was heard that year in the film Taps and in 1982's Partners. Their succession of hits in the mid-1980s established the sisters as the female rhythm and blues group of the decade. 1984's Break Out included the hit single "Neutron Dance," which helped give the enormously popular film Beverly Hills Cop some of its characteristic energy. Break Out also produced the singles "Jump (for My Love)," a smash hit that earned a Grammy Award for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal, and "Automatic," Grammy winner for best vocal arrangement for two or more voices.
In 1985 the Pointer Sisters switched to RCA Records, where they produced 1988's Serious Slammin', their 16th album. People' s Ralph Novak described the release as "full of fun, funk, romance and just about everything else on earth that's admirable except glazed doughnuts." Jumping labels again, this time to Motown, the trio released 1991's Right Rhythm. Motown press information pointed out that in much of their material, particularly "Slow Hand," "He's So Shy," "Fire," and "The Man With the Right Rhythm," the Pointer Sisters have consistently "[projected] strong images of women who know what they want--emotionally and physically--out of life" and that singles like "Real Life" carried a clear message that "superficial, material things ain't where they're at." While the Pointer Sisters have drawn stylistically from their diverse musical heritage, their lyrics show the influence of their strong moral background. Right Rhythm' s "Billy Said Yes," for example, which featured a rap break--in both English and French--addressed the pressure on young people to use drugs.
In the spring of 1992, the trio again changed labels, moving to SBK Records. The sisters continued to maintain a wide and varied touring schedule, performing for audiences at New York City's Carnegie Hall; soldiers in the Persian Gulf; on television in tributes to comedian Richard Pryor and former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali; and at the opening of the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park in Orlando, Florida.
The Pointer Sisters have influenced both music and fashion throughout their many years of popular success. Motown's press information remembered how "they [had gone] back in time to resurrect the '40s look and caused thousands of young women across the nation to copy their fashion sense and hundreds of hopeful female trios to try to scat." With an uncanny sixth sense, the group is "always pointed in the right direction whatever the road traveled or musical direction."
by Marta Robertson
Pointer Sisters, The's Career
Group formed in Oakland by Bonnie and June as Pointers, A Pair, 1969; performed in San Francisco clubs; Anita, a legal secretary, joined shortly thereafter; worked as studio background vocalists; managed by Bill Graham, 1971-72; sang backup for various artists, 1971-73; signed to Atlantic Records; Ruth, a keypunch operator, joined group, 1972; signed to ABC's Blue Thumb Records, and released album The Pointer Sisters, 1973; appeared on numerous television shows; subjects of PBS television documentary, 1974; appeared in film Car Wash, 1976; Bonnie left group, 1978; signed with Planet Records, c. 1979; signed with RCA Records, c. 1985; signed with Motown Records, c. 1991; signed with SBK Records, 1992.
Pointer Sisters, The's Awards
Several gold and platinum albums and American Music Awards; Grammy Awards for best country single, 1974, for "Fairytale"; best pop performance by a duo or group with vocals, 1984, for "Jump"; and best vocal arrangement for two or more voices, 1984, for "Automatic."
- Selective Works
- The Pointer Sisters (includes "Yes We Can Can"), Blue Thumb, 1973.
- "Fairytale" (single), Blue Thumb, 1974.
- Energy (includes "Fire" and "Happiness"), Planet, 1978.
- Special Things (includes "He's So Shy"), Planet, 1980.
- Black and White (includes "Slow Hand" and "What a Surprise"), Planet, 1981.
- So Excited Planet, 1982.
- Break Out (includes "Jump [for My Love]" and "Automatic"), Planet, 1983.
- Contact RCA, 1985.
- Serious Slammin' RCA, 1988.
- Right Rhythm (includes "Real Life" and "Billy Said Yes"), Motown, 1991.
July 27, 2004: The Pointer Sisters' album, 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/index.jsp, August 5, 2004.
- Kernfield, Barry, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Macmillan, 1986.
- The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edited by Jon Pareles and Patricia Romanowski, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
- Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, St.
- Martin's, 1989.
- Periodicals Jet, April 24, 1989.
- People, May 2, 1988; May 25, 1992.
- Variety, May 10, 1989.
- Stereo Review, October 1991; March 1991.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from a Motown Records publicity release, 1991.
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