If Grammys were given for sheer perseverance, there would be few more deserving acts than the Pointer Sisters Years before Sister Sledge sang “We are Family,” the four Pointers sashayed onto the pop scene scatting Yes We Can Can in thrift-deco glad rags. That, alas, was in 1973, and the Sisters have been boogeying uphill ever since. They weathered the reccurring physical exhaustion of youngest sister June, and by the time she bounced back in 1978, the group had shrunk to a trio with Bonnie’s split to pursue a solo career. Meanwhile Ruth had taken a maternity leave and, as Anita recalls, “We all didn’t know what to do.”
What they did was regroup without Bonnie but with Barbra Streisand’s producer, Richard Perry, and they promptly struck gold with Bruce Springsteen’s song Fire in 1978. Now they’ve followed that with one of the charts’ hottest, catchiest tunes, He’s So Shy—which the sassy Pointers are not. “If we don’t win the Grammy for Best Female Group,” warns the eldest, Ruth, 34, “I’m gonna slap somebody’s face.”
The Pointers have long since won over critics with their immense range and high-energy shows. They’ve vamped through every style from C&W to bebop and even a Coca-Cola jingle. And they’ve done it everywhere from the Grand Ole Opry to Zaire.
The Oakland, Calif. natives, who once belonged to the Black Panther party, hardly mind that their pop-soul fans are mostly white. “It doesn’t make a helluva lot of difference who’s out there,” says Ruth. Besides, Anita observes, “It’s not strange being among a lot of white people.”
It is hard, though, for the close-knit Pointers to tour away from their L.A.-area base. Anita, 32 and divorced, lives with Richard Gonzalez, an antiques dealer. “He’s hardworking and inspirational,” she beams, “not a rock’n’roll groupie.” Her daughter, Jada, 14, and Gonzalez’ daughter, Cindy, 15, frequently stay at their condo. “They are both only children, so it’s like they each have a sister,” says Anita.
Ruth has been “courted” for six years by Dennis Edwards, a member of the Temptations and father of her daughter, Issa, 2. They plan a Christmas Eve wedding. If touring keeps them apart, their rare nights together are at least memorable. “I recently got all dressed up like a hooker,” laughs Ruth. “Black stockings, garter belt—the works. We got blasted.” (Ruth also has two children from a teen marriage, daughter Faun, 15, and son Malik, 14.)
June, 27, is married to Bill Whitmore, who often acts as the group’s road manager. “June better hurry up and have kids before I get too old to babysit,” says family matriarch Sarah Pointer, who has raised the four grandchildren while the Sisters attend to their far-flung careers.
Mom’s certainly put in her time. Before there were Pointer Sisters, she and husband Elton, both ministers in the family’s West Oakland Church of God, had two older sons. Then came the girls. “We fought like cats and dogs,” says Ruth. The family grew up mostly in the Oakland ghetto. “All we had was our voices to make us happy,” remembers June. The girls all got high school diplomas and choir experience before they moved on to singing backup at the Fillmore for blues-rock acts like Dave Mason and Elvin Bishop. Then in 1973 came their own breakout Pointer Sisters LP.
“We compete, but it’s not vicious,” claims Ruth. Anita and June now sing most leads, notes Ruth, “and Bonnie felt she wasn’t getting enough recognition. All three of us were willing to compromise, but she wasn’t.” The Sisters insist there is no lingering bitterness. But Bonnie, 28, is often out of touch with the family for weeks on end. (She has cut three Motown LPs, and lives with a producer from that label, Jeffrey Bowen, in L.A.)
Professionally, centrifugal forces clearly still exist. June and Anita are mulling solo LPs, and Ruth’s temptation is to duet with Edwards. But the Pointers figure they can handle anything. “Once you go through what we’ve endured,” says Anita, “you prepare for it. If the good times are there, you know the bad times are coming for sure.”