By Chris Willman | Variety
Anita Pointer, who rose to fame in the 1970s as a member of the hit sibling singing group the Pointer Sisters, died Saturday at age 74. The cause of death was cancer; her publicist said she died surrounded by family.
“While we are deeply saddened by the loss of Anita, we are comforted in knowing she is now with her daughter, Jada, and her sisters June and Bonnie, and at peace,” said a statement jointly attributed to her four closest survivors — a sister, Ruth, brothers Aaron and Fritz, and her granddaughter Roxie McKain Pointer. “She was the one that kept all of us close and together for so long. Her love of our family will live on in each of us. Please respect our privacy during this period of grief and loss. Heaven is a more loving beautiful place with Anita there.”
Anita was with the Oakland-based group from its formation in 1969 until she was forced to retire due to then-unspecified health reasons in 2015.
The Pointer Sisters had a hit album right out of the gate in 1973 as their self-titled debut release reached No. 13 on the album chart. Their first major hit single was a recording of Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can,” which narrowly missed the top 10, peaking at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 12 on the R&B chart.
As they abandoned the nostalgic look they’d started with, the sisters had their first and only No. 1 R&B chart hit in 1975 with “How Long (Betcha Got a Chick on the Side).” It would still be a few more years before they cracked the top 10 of the Hot 100, but once they did, the floodgates opened.
That phenomenal pop success got seriously underway with a version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” that reached No. 2 on the pop chart in 1978. Recalled Anita in an interview with Goldmine about the Springsteen song, “I told Richard Perry that there was such a big voice on this song that maybe he wanted Ruthie to sing lead as she had the big voice, but he said, ‘No. I want you to sing it.’ So I did and it became our first gold single and I was just so thrilled.”
Then through the mid-1980s the hits kept coming. In 1980, “He’s So Shy” hit No. 3. “Slow Hand” went to No. 2 in 1981. “Neutron Dance” went to No. 6 in 1984, and “Jump (for My Love)” reached No. 3 that same year. Another essential hit of the era, “Automatic,” peaked at No. 5 in 1984. “I’m So Excited,” a track with lead vocals by Anita, was only a minor hit for the sisters in 1982, but was re-released in remixed form in 1984 and this time went as high as No. 9.
The group also had success on the legit stage and screen, touring with “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” based on the Fats Waller song catalog, and appearing in the hit 1976 film comedy “Car Wash.”
The pop hit streak came to an end in the mid-’80s, as the 1985 single “Dare Me,” at No. 11, marked the last time the Pointer Sisters reached the top 20. After being off the charts entirely since the early ’90s, the sisters had one last chart hit in 2005 with “Christmas in New York,” which reached No. 21 on the adult contemporary chart.
For as often as the sisters got held at No. 2 or 3 in their run of still-ubiquitous songs, they did have a brush with No. 1 as featured participants in the all-star “We Are the World” charity single in 1985.
Their biggest single album by far was 1983’s “Break Out,” which was certified three-times platinum; it was the LP that included “Neutron Dance,” “Jump” and “Automatic.” In 1984 it was reissued with the new version of the Anita-sung and co-written “I’m So Excited” added to the lineup.
The group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994.
The group’s three Grammys include one in a country category, for the 1974 song “Fairytale,” a point of trivia that often comes up as the lack of Black representation in that genre is discussed. Anita explained that a love of country music came naturally to them because they spent summers with relatives in Arkansas, where that was all they heard. “I only remember listening to one Arkansas radio station,” Anita said. “All they played was country music: Hank Williams’ ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart,’ Tex Ritter’s ‘Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin” and Willie Nelson’s ‘Funny How Time Slips Away.’ The only time I heard Black artists was when I snuck out to the local juke joints and pressed my ear to the door …. To me it was all good music. With country, the short story format really resonated with me.” The group legendarily performed on the Grand Ole Opry in ’74.
Pointer and her brother Fritz collaborated on a family memoir, titled “Fairytale,” in 2020.
Two other sisters who were with the group for most of its existence preceded Anita in death — June Pointer in 2006 and Bonnie Pointer in 2020.
Ruth Pointer is the longest-standing member of the group, having joined in 1972, three years after June, Bonnie and Anita began performing together. Ruth now tours under the Pointer Sisters banner with two younger members, Issa Pointer, who first joined in 2002, and Sadako Pointer, who joined in 2009. In a 2019 interview, Anita signaled her approval of the group continuing without her. “Yhey are doing some great shows and have been all over the world, without me,” she said. “I worked with Issa and Sadako, so they got a good feel for what I do until I had somewhat of a forced retirement, due to health reasons, but Ruthie can still sing so strongly and loves it.”
Pointer’s only daughter, Jada Pointer, who had inspired the 1973 Pointer Sisters song “Jada,” died of cancer in 2003, after which Anita dedicated herself to raising her only grandchild, Roxie.
“This has been a wonderful career. I didn’t plan any of this,” she told Goldmine. In 1969, she pointed out, “I was planning on continuing to being a secretary in a law office, like I was doing, when I heard Bonnie and June singing in the Northern California State Youth Choir, performing ‘Oh Happy Day,’ with Edwin Hawkins and Dorothy Morrison, and I just loved it. So I quit my job and said that I had to do this too.”