She sang lead on all three of the Pointer Sisters’ early Top 40 singles, helping to shape the band’s pop sound in the 1980s. Anita Pointer passed away Saturday at her home in Beverly Hills, California. She was the lovely and sporadically sultry lead voice on many of the Pointer Sisters’ hits from the 1970s and 1980s. She was 74.
The cause was cancer, her publicist, Roger Neal, said. The Ronettes’ doo-wop purity and Destiny’s Child’s stilettoed girl power were on either side of The Pointer Sisters in pop history.
A lot of that was due to Anita’s voice. She sang with a molasses-like tempo and sweetness. She had the virtuosity to trill beautifully, but she tended to sing too quietly to come out as domineering. Anita cooed in the love song “Slow Hand,” which had a soft-focus music video and peaked at No. 2 on the pop charts in 1981.
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Her sisters offered a melodic line as backup vocalists when she delivered lead vocals on that song and other songs. The women regularly harmonized, building their groovy ’70s sound along the lines of a barbershop quartet.
Anita, Ruth, Bonnie, and June formed the original lineup of the Pointer Sisters, which was reduced to a trio in 1977 after Bonnie quit to pursue a solo career. In the group’s initial version, Anita sang lead on all three of its Top 40 singles, including the group’s breakthrough hit, “Yes We Can Can,” from its debut album, “The Pointer Sisters” (1973). On the charts for that year, it peaked at No. 11.
Anita sang the song live while grinning toothily, using an eager, pleading tone that she might have picked up from listening to her minister father preach.
Although some of the Pointer Sisters’ early songs, like “How Long (Betcha’ Got A Chick On The Side)” (1975), could be frantic and groovy, the group purposefully gave off an old-fashioned vibe. The Pointer women performed in vintage attire that was appropriate for the church in the 1940s, and occasionally, they even got their outfits from their mother’s church acquaintances.
For the 1974 song “Fairytale,” written by Anita and Bonnie, they received their first Grammy—unusual for a Black group at the time—in the category for best country vocal performance by a pair or group.
Anita, performing outside her family band, had a rare crossover hit in 1986 with the song “Too Many Times,” a duet with country artist Earl Thomas Conley. The two sang the music on the R&B program “Soul Train,” an unlikely setting for Mr. Conley.
The Pointer Sisters set out on a new path when Bonnie departed the group. The band’s 1978 cover of Bruce Springsteen’s song “Fire,” which peaked at No. 2 on the charts, was in a transitional phase. It featured traditional honky-tonk piano lines, but the lead vocalist, Anita, leaned towards a huskier, s*xier aspect of her low voice.
With “I’m So Excited,” the ensemble had developed an essentially new sound by 1982. Anita was the lead vocalist, and she sounded happy singing come-hither lyrics about “those joys in the night,” The band released a s*xy music video to go with it. The song stayed on the Hot 100 chart for 40 weeks.
Anita provided background vocals on several Pointer Sisters classics, including “Jump (For My Love),” which won the 1985 Grammy for best duet or group pop performance, and “Automatic,” which took home the prize for the best vocal arrangement for two or more voices. June sang lead on both songs.
“That’s something I would always hate to see — somebody trying to out-sing the other person,” Anita said in a discussion of her career posted on YouTube in 2015. “Everybody did their best. I never felt like we were competing onstage.”
— The Pointer Sisters (@PointerOfficial) January 1, 2023
On January 23, 1948, Anita Marie Pointer was born in Oakland, California. Her mother, Sarah Elizabeth Silas Pointer, and her father, Elton Pointer, served a tiny church. The six Pointer kids participated in choirs throughout their childhoods, developing their vocal skills that later helped the sisters harmonize when they started their group.
Anita fell in love with her grandparents’ house in Prescott, where she attended the fifth, seventh, and tenth grades when Elton and Sarah moved there from Arkansas. She once picked cotton for money, had to sit on the balcony at the movie theatre, and attended a racially segregated school.
She graduated from Oakland Technical High School in 1965 and was hired as a legal secretary. In 1968, she saw Bonnie and June sing to a crowd in San Francisco. “I just lost it,” she told Collector’s Weekly in 2015. “I sat in that audience, cried, and sang along. The next day, I quit my job. I said, ‘I’ve got to sing!'”
The sisters quickly rose to the position of a backup band for San Francisco-area musicians, including the Taj Mahal. They were once cautioned against overshadowing a musical artist they were meant to be supporting. They started putting their songs on tape.
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Along with music, Anita gathered a noteworthy collection of items tracing Black American histories, such as examples of racism, segregation, and slavery.
“This reminds me that everybody doesn’t love you and you have to prove them wrong,” Ms. Pointer told Collector’s Weekly. “You’re not a buffoon. The artists tried to depict Black people insultingly, but I think big lips and big booties are beautiful.”
The two marriages of Ms. Pointer were annulled. Jada, a child from her first marriage, died of cancer in 2003. Bonnie passed away in 2020, and June died in 2006. Sister Ruth, brothers Aaron and Fritz, and a grandchild survive Ms. Pointer.
Ms. Pointer listened to her old music loudly in her automobile and sang along as she got older, never losing her passion for it. The band continued to play far into the twenty-first century.
“It’s not a vulgar show so that you can bring your grandma and the kids,” Ms. Pointer told the French outlet Metro News in 2007. “They’re not going to get a corset in their face.”
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