Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Anita Pointer, Founding Member of Iconic Vocal Group The Pointer Sisters, Dies at 74

Acclaimed singer, songwriter and performer Anita Pointer died on Saturday, December 31, at her home in Beverly Hills where she was surrounded by family. She was 74. The cause of her death was cancer, according to her publicist Roger Neal. She is survived by her sister Ruth, brothers Fritz and Aaron and granddaughter Roxie.

Anita was a founding member of the Grammy-winning R&B/pop vocal group the Pointer Sisters. From the late ‘70s to the mid-80s, the Pointer Sisters were one of the hottest music acts on the planet–landing a string of hits on both the R&B and pop charts. Anita sang lead on many of the group’s biggest hits, including “Yes We Can Can,” “Fire, “Slow Hand” and “I’m So Excited.” She blessed those tracks with her rich, soulful vocals. She was also a charismatic live performer and always brought tons of energy and excitement to the stage. 

The Pointer Sisters were known for their great versatility. Their eclectic sound encompassed a variety of genres, including jazz, pop, soul, country, funk, gospel, bebop, blues, disco, rock and electronic music. And they handled all these styles with equal facility. 

The group scored several gold and platinum albums and had 13 top-20 singles, seven of which landed in the top 10. They earned a slew of prestigious music awards, including three Grammys and three American Music Awards. They were inducted into both the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame and the Soul Train Hall of Fame in 1994 and also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that same year. Additionally, the group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2005.

The Pointer Sisters’ songs have been featured on the soundtracks of blockbuster films such as Beverly Hills Cop, Beverly Hills Cop II and The Nutty Professor. And they appeared in the 1976 cult comedy classic Car Wash in which they played the Wilson Sisters, who were faithful followers of a duplicitous fast-talking evangelist named Daddy Rich (played by Richard Pryor). They also appeared on the popular TV shows Gimme a Break and The Love Boat. Additionally, the Pointer Sisters toured for 48 weeks in a 1995-’96 production of the Tony-winning musical Ain't Misbehavin’.

Anita was born in Oakland, California on January 23, 1948 to Sarah Elizabeth and Reverend Elton Pointer. She was the second eldest of four sisters. Her sisters were Ruth, Bonnie and June. She also had two older brothers, Fritz and Aaron. All four sisters began singing gospel in their father's church in West Oakland. June and Bonnie formed a music duo in the late ‘60s called Pointers, a Pair. The two began performing at nightclubs around the San Francisco bay area. Their shows were well-received, and they began to build a following. By 1972, both Ruth and Anita had joined the group, making it a quartet. And they renamed themselves the Pointer Sisters.

The group released their self-titled debut album on Blue Thumb Records in 1973. The album was met enthusiastically by record buyers and music critics, who gave it high marks. The collection yielded two hits, “Yes We Can Can” and a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle.” “Yes We Can Can,” written by legendary songwriter/producer/arranger Allen Toussaint, peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #12 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. “Wang Dang Doodle” climbed to #61 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #24 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. 

The group scored their second top-20 hit with the infectious country tune “Fairytale,” a single from their sophomore album That’s a Plenty (released in 1974 on Blue Thumb Records). The song, co-written by Anita and Bonnie, peaked at #13 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard’s Adult Contemporary singles chart. And it climbed to #37 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart. On October 25, 1974, they performed “Fairytale” at the Grand Ole Opry, making them the first black female group to appear on the world-famous country music showcase. The song also earned the Pointer Sisters their first Grammy. They won for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group at the 17th Annual Grammy Awards in 1975. They were the first African-American music act to win in that category. The song is a long-time favorite among country music fans. Elvis Presley even covered it.

The Pointer Sisters achieved their biggest commercial success in the ‘80s as a trio. (Bonnie left the group in 1977 to pursue a solo career.) They were racking up hit after hit in that decade and became a major force in popular music. Their music was heard everywhere during that period–on the radio, clubs, parties, wedding receptions and even at the movies. 

The Pointer Sisters were also great performers; their concerts were always exciting, high-energy celebrations where they always looked like they were having as much fun as the audience. And during their live performances, they showed that they were the real deal vocally. They sounded just as good as they did on their records live. They didn’t need any studio effects or tricks to sound amazing. 

Some of the group’s other career highlights included performing at the White House for then-president Bill Clinton and at the closing ceremony of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The trio also participated in the recording of the all-star charity single “We Are The World” in 1985.

Anita was also involved in various music projects outside of the Pointer Sisters. She wrote songs for other artists, including Jeff Lorber’s 1985 R&B/dance hit “Step by Step.” And she dueted with country music superstar Earl Thomas Conely on the song “Too Many Times,” which rose to #2 on Billboard’s Country chart in 1986. To promote the song, she performed it with Conely on a variety of shows, including Solid Gold, Earl’s TNN Special and Crook and Chase. The two also performed “Too Many Times” at the American Music Awards and the Country Music Awards.

In 1987, Anita released her solo debut album Love For What It Is on RCA Records. One of the album’s highlights is “The Pledge,” a lovely romantic duet between Anita and Philip Bailey. The upbeat, breezy “Overnight Success” saw some chart action, peaking at #41 on Billboard's R&B singles chart. Anita performed the song on popular shows such as American Bandstand, Soul Train and The Arsenio Hall Show.

Anita was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1998. Also, she opened a Pointer Sisters exhibit titled “Ever After” at The Hollywood Museum in 2019. The exhibit features iconic outfits the Pointer Sisters wore during their distinguished 50-plus-year career and a host of other great group memorabilia. In 2020, Anita published a family memoir titled Fairytale, which she co-authored with her brother Fritz and entertainment writer Dave Smitherman.

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