Take 5: The Pointer Sisters

(Top left to right) June, Ruth, Bonnie (bottom) Anita. Courtesy of samotako1.wordpress.com

(Top left to right) June, Ruth, Bonnie (bottom) Anita. Courtesy of samotako1.wordpress.com

For those who know The Pointer Sisters solely from their 80s dance hit, “I’m So Excited,” there might be the perception that they were a one-note band, a faddish novelty act. Actually the Pointer Sisters who have been performing in several incarnations for over forty years, were highly adventurous and versatile performers who tapped into and thrived at many musical styles.

Their eventful and colorful lives and careers would make an interesting biopic, one far more riveting than that of the bland Supremes. Born to an ultra-religious family where both parents were ministers for the Church of God, the four Pointer sisters and their two brothers were barred from all forms of entertainment except religious music. The sisters, who always loved jazz, blues, and rock and roll (referred to as “the devil’s music” by their parents) would sing together in secret, where they formed their dynamic sound.

Courtesy of killercell.blogspot.com

Courtesy of killercell.blogspot.com

June and Bonnie, the two youngest sisters, were the first to rebel when they dropped out of high school and performed as “Pointers a Pair” in various California clubs. The excitement and fast-pace of performing attracted Anita, the second oldest, who quit her job and joined her younger sisters. Ruth, the oldest, was initially a replacement for June, who sporadically missed performances due to suffering nervous breakdowns and alcoholism (which was an ongoing problem) before she joined full-time in 1972. At first, Ruth performed simply as a means to provide for her children after her husband abandoned the family, though she quickly came to love the work and acted as a driving force for the group.

As a quartet, the Pointer sisters were finally able to achieve a record deal for a full-length album, which combined a selection of old timey bebop tunes and contemporary R&B songs, including their first smash hit “Yes We Can Can.” In early performances before they could afford a costume designer, their style consisted of 1940s garb that they collected from various thrift stores.

They won their first Grammy, surprisingly, in the Country & Western category for their ballad (co-written by Bonnie and Anita), “Fairytale.” Topping the Country charts, The Pointer Sisters were invited to Nashville where they were the first black performers to sing at the Grand Ol’ Opry (although the bookers weren’t aware of their phenotype before they came on stage).

Courtesy of thissongissick.com

Courtesy of thissongissick.com

At the peak of their success, Bonnie decided to leave the group to start a solo career. In hindsight, this probably helped the group in the long run as her brassy sugar-pop voice was the weakest in the bunch. The ever resilient Pointers soldiered on as a trio and rose to even greater heights. In 1983, with the album “Break Out,” they fashioned a new persona of the party princesses and sang many of their longest lasting hits including “I’m So Excited,” “Jump,” and “Automatic” which solidified their major celebrity status for the next few years.

In spite of the Pointer Sisters’ willingness to adapt to the garage pop sound popular in the late 80s and 90s, their popularly quickly dwindled with audiences. They were cast aside for younger singers like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Sinead O’Connor and their two albums in the early 90s were flops, essentially ending their recording career.

They made another comeback of sorts with a nationwide tour of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” where they sang a collection of Swing-era songs. Their success was short-lived due to the increasing unreliability of June, who became addicted to crack in addition to her alcoholism. Ruth and Anita officially ousted her in 2001. June spent the remainder of her life in jail and in poverty before her death in 2006 of a stroke in conjunction with breast and lung cancer.

Courtesy of www.visitstatesboroga.com

Courtesy of www.visitstatesboroga.com

Ruth and Anita still tour under the billing “The Pointer Sisters.” While they still look and sound fantastic, much of the magnetism is gone because their band is of a lower quality and June’s replacements, Issa and Sadako (Ruth’s daughter and granddaughter), don’t match her vocal intensity or her charisma.

Friend’s Advice (Don’t Take It)

In spite of the negative critical and audience reception to this period, I dig their spirited take of this catchy and sassy tune about judgmental and hypocritical friends who disapprove of their friend’s “bad boy.”

Yes We Can Can

At one time in history, it was mainstream to sing about women standing up for themselves. This song, headed by a soulful Anita, is one of the catchier and resonant rallies for gender equality. There’s a great drum solo by Gaylord Birch.

Neutron Dance

One of their most consistently dependable raise-the-roof tunes, this rendition stands out because of its gospel infused sound and spirited background riffs by June.

Cloudburst

They fully immerse themselves in this classic bebop vocalese standard. The scat solos are fantastic, but even more impressive is their perfect synchronicity of the chorus.

Jump

Some fans have complained about the lightning-fast speed of this 1988 rendition. I think that the pace gives June the best opportunity to show off her great dancing, and the lower key showcases her gravelly rock-and-roll voice.

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