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The Pointer Sisters are an American R&B vocal group who came to prominence in the early 70s and enjoyed a successful career throughout the 80s. Their music continuously evolved over the years, hitting on Motown inspired soul music, soft rock, country, post-disco, and dance-pop.
The Pointer family grew up in West Oakland California and during their childhood they were goaded by their parents (Elton and Sarah) to sing hymns and gospel music. Their father who was a church minister was adamant about steering his children away from rock and blues music, but they fell in love with these genres anyways. The sisters balanced their time between both church and secular music. When they were not busy singing in the choir they were soaking up hit singles by Elvis Presley such as “All Shook Up”.
By the 60s Bonnie and June Pointer began singing professionally under the moniker “Pointers, A Pair”. They started out making rounds in various night clubs in the San Francisco area, but eventually progressed towards the role of backup singers for important vocalist like Grace Slick, Sylvester James, Boz Scaggs, and Elvin Bishop. During this transitory stage the girls invited their sister Anita to join the group.
In 1971 the sisters signed to Atlantic Records and while they produced several singles for the label none of them offered them a commercial break. Their sister Ruth also jumped on board in 1972 and shortly after the sisters (now a quartet) entered into a recording contract with Blue Thumb Records. The Pointer Sisters released their studio debut in 1973. They made a conscious attempt to avoid many of the current pop trends and instead focused on a sound that was representative of jazz and be-bop music.
Though the album was an attempt to defy modern pop conventions, this release was nevertheless a hit, jumping to No. 10 on the Billboard 200 and No. 3 on the R&B Album Charts. Their sophomore effort “That’s a Plenty” came out just a year later. This release was a stylistic extension of their debut; however, the album was demarcated by the stand out Country track “Fairytale”. This cut rose to No. 13 on the pop charts and No. 37 on the Country charts. It also built the sisters a following in Nashville and led them to their performance at the Grand Ole Opry, making them the first female black singers to perform at that venue. The song went on to win a Grammy for “Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal” and was also covered by their personal hero Elvis Presley.
Their 3rd studio album “Steppin’” saw release in 1975 and went to No. 20 on the Billboard hot 100. It featured the single “How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side)”, which was later sampled by the female rap group Salt-N-Peppa and covered by Queen Latifah. In 1977 they issued ‘Having a Party”, a record leaning more heavily towards funk music. This was further made evident with their decision to include Stevie Wonder on the album.
Their 5th album “Energy” came out the following year and was their 3rd album to go gold in the US. It was also their first album not to feature Bonnie Pointer (she left the group earlier on to pursue a solo career). The album drew from the catalogue of veteran pop artists such as Donald Fagan (Steely Dan), Bob Welch (Fleetwood Mac), Sylvester Stewart (Sly and the Family Stone), Kenny Loggins, Stephen Stills, and Bruce Springsteen. Their next album “Priority” also used compositions from classic root rockers like Springsteen, Richard Thompson, and Bob Seger.
The sisters started the 80s with two certified Gold albums “Special Things” (1980) and “Black & White” (1981). Their follow up “So Excited!” did not do as well as their previous releases; however, it did include the hit “American Music” and the iconic Prince cover “I Feel for You”. The sister’s successive release “Break Out” put them at the peak of their career. This album has since gone platinum three times over in the US, four times over in Canada and Gold in the UK. It entered the US Albums chart at No. 8 and contained the three hit singles “Jump (For My Love)”, “Automatic”, and “Neutron Dance”. The 1985 album “Contact” was the sister’s first release on RCA and like it’s predecessor it too was a hit, reaching No. 25 on the US Album Charts and going platinum in both the US and Canada.
The Pointer Sisters finished up their contract with RCA with the LPs “Hot Together” (1986) and “Serious Slammin’” (1988). While these two albums were able to chart, the girls’ career started to lose momentum. They released 2 additional albums in the 90s “Right Rhythm” (1990) and “Only Sisters Can Do That” (1993), but their next album “The Pointer Sisters Favorites” did not come out until 15 years later. However they did tour on and off together between these releases.