Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Pointer Sisters, The #32 Female Artist of the Rock Era

The Pointer Sisters (Ruth, Anita, Bonnie and June) are from Oakland, California.  They regularly sang at the Church of God in Christ, but as the sisters got older, they began singing other styles of music.  After leaving school, Ruth, the oldest sister, and Anita, the second oldest, were married with children.  Sister Bonnie and June began performing in clubs in 1969 as Pointers, a Pair.  Anita soon joined them, and the trio signed a recording contract with Atlantic Records in 1971. 

The group began touring and performing and singing background vocals for artists such as Boz Scaggs, Grace Slick and Elvin Bishop.  They released several unsuccessful singles on Atlantic before Ruth joined them in 1972.  The quartet signed with Blue Thumb Records and recorded their debut album. 

The Pointer Sisters released their self-titled debut album in 1973, a Gold album which included the single "Yes We Can Can".  The song reached #11.

In 1974, the Pointer Sisters released the album That's a Plenty, which too went Gold.  To promote the album, they made their television debut at the famous Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles on The Helen Reddy Show.  The lead single "Fairytale" hit #13 overall and #37 on the country charts.  On the strength of that, the Sisters became the first African-American singers ever invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.  

The quartet won the Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for "Fairytale", and Anita and Bonnie were nominated for the Grammy for Best Country Song (an award for songwriters).  

The Pointers released the album Steppin' in 1975, which yielded the #1 R&B song "How Long (Betcha' Got A Chick On The Side)".  The single reached #20 overall and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

The group recorded "You Gotta' Believe" for the movie Car Wash--it was a minor hit on the R&B chart.  The Pointers recorded their last album as a quartet in 1977--Having a Party, which failed to produce any big hits.

June and Bonnie left the group after Having a Party.  Bonnie got married and signed a solo contract with Motown--she went on to score a hit with "Heaven Must Have Sent You" in 1979.  Ruth and Anita, meanwhile, wanted to continue to record, and they negotiated a deal with Richard Perry's Planet Records, which was distributed by Elektra.
June was persuaded to return to the group, and the Pointer Sisters were now a trio.  The gals set out to record a new album with Perry as producer, and they released Energy in 1978.  The first single was a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire", a monumental multi-format smash.  It shot up to #2 in the United States, with significant airplay from both Adult Contemporary and R&B stations as well.  "Fire" reached #1 in New Zealand, the Netherlands and Belgium, hit #3 in Canada and #7 in Australia.  The Pointers were on their way.

Energy became the group's third Gold album of their career.  The album Priority had a harder edge to it, proving the group's versatility, although it didn't have a lot of success.  But in 1980, the Pointer Sisters returned with the album Special Things, which contained another of their biggest hits, "He's So Shy".  The single hit #1 in New Zealand and #3 in the U.S. and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Special Things returned the Pointers to high quality with another Gold album.  With a good deal of momentum on their side, the group released the album Black & White the following year.  It was their most successful to date, reaching #12, selling over 500,000 copies, and earning a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.  The Sisters came up with another winner:  "Slow Hand".  The single peaked at #2 in the United States and Ireland, #5 in Australia, #6 in New Zealand and #10 in the U.K. 

"Slow Hand" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and the Pointer Sisters were nominated for an American Music Award for Favorite Duo or Group.  The next two singles received only moderate airplay, but the fourth single from the album, "Should I Do It", hit #6 in Belgium, #12 in the Netherlands and #13 in the United States.

The next year, the Pointer Sisters released the album So Excited!  The single "American Music" was up first--the intro had a variation of "The Star-Spangled Banner", and it reached #9 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #16 overall:

The group released "I'm So Excited", and, while it hit #4 in Sweden and #9 in Australia, most of the world wasn't ready for it...yet.

Break Out in 1983 became the biggest album of the Pointers' career, eventually selling over three million copies in the U.S. alone.  The beginning of MTV (which used to stand for Music Television for those who only know the channel these days for boring talk and ridiculous "reality" shows).  "I Need You" was the first single; it reached #12 in Ireland and #15 on the AC chart in America.

While "I Need You" was a hit in some markets, the next single was "Automatic".  Ireland was the country that liked the second single the most, raising the song to #1.  It reached #2 in the U.K., #2 on the R&B chart and #5 overall in the United States, #5 in Belgium, #8 in New Zealand and #9 in the Netherlands.  The song won the group a Grammy Award for Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices.

Another huge hit for the group was their next one, "Jump (For My Love)".  The Pointers shot up to #2 in Ireland, #3 in the U.S. and New Zealand, #4 in Belgium, #6 in the U.K., #8 in Australia and Canada and #9 in the Netherlands.  In fact, the only major markets that didn't see fit to rank it Top 10 were Germany and Switzerland.  The song captured the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.

The group captured American Music Awards for Favorite Soul/R&B Band, Duo or Group and Favorite Soul/R&B Group Video Artist.  When a song is as great as "I'm So Excited", you can't keep it down.  It was remixed, re-released and added to the album Break Out while the group was in the height of its popularity.  The song was still vastly underrated, but did manage to reach #6 in Ireland, #9 in the U.S. and #11 in the U.K.

The Pointers collected another smash with "Neutron Dance".  All it did was hit #1 in Canada, #4 in Australia, #6 in the United States and #7 in Sweden, the group's fourth smash hit in a row.  It was also featured on the "Beverly Hills Cop" Soundtrack.

In 1985, the Pointer Sisters released the album Contact, which yielded another hit in "Dare Me".  A bit underrated, it was at least a #1 Dance hit, it hit #6 on the R&B chart and #11 overall in the United States, #7 in Ireland and #10 in Australia.

Contact earned the Pointers another Grammy nomination for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and once again the Sisters won the American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Group Video Artist   The group landed one more hit--"Freedom", a #16 song on the Adult Contemporary chart.

The sisters left RCA Records to record on Motown and then SBK.  They released several more albums and individual solo projects, but these did not achieve the level of success that the world had become accustomed to from the Pointers.

The group continued to perform, singing for the U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf in 1991.  In 1994, the Pointer Sisters received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and they began touring with a production of the Fats Waller-based musical Ain't Misbehavin'.  They were one of the top acts at the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.  

In 2005, the Pointer Sisters were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.  

The energetic group has sold over six million albums in the United States and charted 15 Top 40 hits, with seven of those reaching the Top 10.

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