The group had its early origins when sisters June and Bonnie Pointer began performing in 1969 (without a record deal) as "Pointers, a Pair". The line-up grew to a quartet when Anita Pointer joined, followed by Ruth, who joined in December, 1972, right before they recorded their debut album. They achieved their greatest commercial success later as a trio consisting of Anita, June, and Ruth, after Bonnie left the group to commence a solo career in 1978.
Early daysAs children in West Oakland, California, the Pointer sisters and brothers were encouraged to listen to and sing gospel music by their parents Reverend Elton and Mrs 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 West Oakland, but as the sisters grew older their love of other styles of music began to grow. When June 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 was already married with two children Faun (born 1965) and Malik (born 1966), Anita also was married with a child Jada. Bonnie 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 deal 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 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, scat and be-bop music. In searching of a visual style for their act, they remembered the poverty of their childhood and their mother's 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 a series of educational cartoons, teaching kids how to count. It made its debut on Sesame Street in 1977 and was a feature on Sesame Street for many years.
They made their debut performance at the Troubador nightclub in Los Angeles in May 1973, and the reaction from the crowd was enthusiastic. Shortly after, they made their television debut on The Helen Reddy Show.
First success as recording artistsself 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 the R&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 rare 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", a further 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. The album didn't produce any major hits and didn't have strong sales, but it featured 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 trioMotown 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 successOver 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. Perry switched distribution of Planet to RCA in 1982. The first release from this new union was "American Music", a patriotic themed modernised take on the girl-group sound while "I'm So Excited" was an influential frenetic 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.
Break Out. In 1983 Ruth had also become 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 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 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 1985 (the Sisters' last Australian Top 10 hit), and "Goldmine" in 1986, reaching numbers 11 and 33 respectively. In 1985 Ruth had become a grandmother for the second time.
The sisters eventually left RCA Records to record for Motown and SBK, releasing several group albums and individual solo albums along the way, but these projects did not achieve the level of success they had earlier attained.
[ Subsequent yearsIn recent years they have maintained a lower public profile but have continued to perform. Anita had become a grandmother for the first time in 1990 to a girl named Roxie. Roxie is from Anita's only child Jada. 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 2004, June Pointer had to leave due to health problems; she was replaced by Ruth's daughter, Issa, and the group continues to perform. They made a 2005 holiday recording Christmas In New York, featured on YMC Records' Smooth & Soulful Christmas Collection, which peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard AC Charts. The sisters were inducted to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2005.
In recent years many Pointer Sisters songs were 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 band is currently experiencing a successful revival in Europe due to their performance at the annual Night of the Proms, a highly successful series of concerts combining pop and classical music, taking place in the Benelux, France and Germany. The group received the highest audience ratings of all participating Night of the Proms acts in 2002. In addition, their collaboration with Belgian pop star Natalia on "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," placed them on the charts in Europe (the single peaked at #2 in the Belgian charts) and resulted in ten sold out dates in Antwerp in January 2006 with the "Natalia Meets The Pointer Sister" concerts, selling out 130.000 tickets for the 10 date concert run.
On June 7, 2006 Anita guest-starred on Celebrity Duets singing with Olympic gymnast Carly Patterson on "I'm So Excited".
Since August 2009 Ruth, Anita and Bonnie have reunited. On August 4, 2009 they stopped by The Kibitz Room at Canter's in LA 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.
Also a fan campaign has begun to get The Sister's honored at The 2011 Bet Awards to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award
Vice City DanceIn 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. This has subsequently gained a cult following.
Tragedy and ControversyIn 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 Pointer Sisters 1973 song "Jada". On April 11, 2006, June Pointer died of lung cancer at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California. 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 in the group and was upset that she had not been allowed to, 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
Top Twenty singlesThe following singles reached the Top Twenty on either the United States Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart or the United Kingdom UK Singles Chart.
- 1973: "Yes We Can Can" (US #11)
- 1974: "Fairytale" (US #13)
- 1975: "How Long (Betcha Got a Chick on the Side)" (US #20)
- 1978: "Fire" (US #2)
- 1980: "He's So Shy" (US #3)
- 1981: "Slow Hand" (US #2; UK #10)
- 1982: "Should I Do It" (US #13)
- 1982: "American Music" (US #16)
- 1984: "Automatic" (US #5; UK #2)
- 1984: "Jump (For My Love)" (US #3; UK #6)
- 1984: "I'm So Excited" (remix) (US #9; UK #11)
- 1984: "Neutron Dance" (US #6)
- 1985: "Dare Me" (US #11; UK #17)
US and UK Top 40 albumsThe following albums reached the Top Forty on either the United States Billboard 200 pop albums chart or the United Kingdom UK Albums Chart.
- 1973: The Pointer Sisters (US #13)
- 1975: Steppin' (US #22)
- 1978: Energy (US #13)
- 1980: Special Things (US #34)
- 1981: Black & White (US #12; UK #21)
- 1982: So Excited! (#24 R&B)
- 1983: Break Out (US #8; UK #9)
- 1985: Contact (US #25; UK #34)
- 1989: Jump: The Best of the Pointer Sisters (UK #11)