The Pointer Sisters was an American vocal group and recording act that achieved great success during the 1970s and 1980s.
The group originally comprised four sisters: Ruth (born March 19, 1946), Anita (born January 23, 1948), Bonnie (born July 11, 1951) and June, (born November 30, 1954). They achieved their greatest success as a trio after Bonnie left the group to commence a solo career.
As children the girls were encouraged to sing gospel music by their parents Reverend Elton and Mrs Sarah Pointer, but in their household 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 of music. They regularly sang at the church but as they 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 she discovered that her mother had been pacified by the "B" side of record, "Crying In The Chapel".
After leaving school it was Bonnie who sought a show business career, and she convinced June to join her to form a duo, "The Pointers - A Pair". Shortly after this, Anita quit her job to join the group. They began touring and performing and provided backing vocals for such artists as Grace Slick, Boz Scaggs and Elvin Bishop, and it was while supporting Bishop at a nightclub appearance that the sisters were signed to a recording deal. The resulting single failed to win an audience but the sisters were enjoying themselves, and the temptation to join them finally overwhelmed Ruth. Before they began to record their first album, the trio had become a quartet.
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 for a visual style 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 various thrift shops, that would comprise their costumes and give them the distinctive look they were searching for.
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 artists
The four sisters in 1940s thrift shop attire for their single "Yes We Can-Can" (1973), from their debut album
Their self titled first album, was released in 1973 and received positive reviews, with the group being lauded for their versatility and originality. The first single from it, "Yes We Can-Can", reached number 11 on the pop charts. A second single also charted well, 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 Country and Western, and while it reached number 13 on the pop charts, it became a major hit on the country charts. Based on this success the group was invited to Nashville, Tennessee where they achieved the distinction of becoming the first black female singers to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. In 1975 the group won a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "Fairytale", and Anita and Bonnie were nominated as songwriters for Song of the Year.
They scored a few R & B hits from the same album, and in 1976 appeared in the film Car Wash.
The quartet becomes a trio
In 1977 Bonnie left the group to sign a contract with Motown Records, and this led to a shortlived successful solo career. Now a trio, the remaining sisters could not contemplate the group continuing in its current style without her so they cut back their schedules and concentrated on raising their families. As they did so, they began talking about the future of the group and what direction it should take. Unsure of what style to follow, they unanimously agreed to dispense with the 1940s nostalgia that had become their image.
They signed with Planet Records, and with producer Richard Perry began working on an album of contemporary music which was released in 1978 with the title "Energy". The first single, a cover version of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire" climbed to number 2 on the US singles charts, and an upbeat dance song, "Happiness", also charted well.
In 1979 they released an album of cover versions titled "Priority" and while it was not a commercial success, it received positive critical reviews.
The height of their success
Over the next few years they achieved their greatest commercial success and continued to demonstrate their versatility. In 1980 the medium tempo dance single, "He's So Shy", reached number three on the charts, and the following year a slow, sultry, country and western flavoured song "Slow Hand" reached number two. "American Music" and "Should I Do It" were 1950s pop, while "I'm So Excited" was a frenetic contemporary dance track. All were significant hits.
The trio during their most successful phase. The album Break Out
With the advent of MTV the sisters were able to exploit their visual style and extend their audience. In 1984 they achieved four top ten singles in a row. "Automatic" reached number 5, "Jump (For My Love)" reached number 4, a rerelease of "I'm So Excited" reached number 10, and their single from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack "Neutron Dance" reached number 6. 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 marked their only appearances in the UK Top 10, with "Automatic" peaking at number two.
These singles marked the end of their run of US Top 10 hits, with their subsequent releases "Dare Me" in 1985, and "Goldmine" in 1986, reaching numbers 11 and 33 respectively.
The sisters left Planet Records to record for Motown and released several group albums and individual solo albums, but these projects did not achieve the level of success they had earlier attained.
In recent years years they have maintained a lower public profile but have continued to perform.
They entertained US troops in the Persian Gulf in 1991 with Bob Hope. In 1994 they were honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and began touring with a production of Fats Waller's Ain't Misbehaving. They were also one of the featured acts at the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. As of 2004, founding group member June Pointer had been removed from the group due to reported drug problems; she was "replaced" with Ruth's daughter, Issa, and the group continues to perform.