Bonnie Pointer, one of the two founding members of the Pointer Sisters, died Monday morning at age 69. The cause of death was not announced. In a statement, her older sister Anita said, “Bonnie was my best friend and we talked every day. We never had a fight in our life. I already miss her and I will see her again one day.”
The Pointer Sisters hailed from Oakland, California, and grew up singing in church; their father was a minister. Calling themselves “The Pointers, A Pair,” June and Bonnie started the original group in 1969. By 1973, the group had expanded to include their two oldest sisters, Anita and Ruth. While touring with Dave Mason, they were asked to wear dresses instead of jeans, and on the road in New Orleans, they found a thrift shop that sold Depression-era garb. Their new look matched their sound, a funky blend of jazz, R&B, scat, and 1940s harmonizing that also fit in with Bette Midler’s retro look and music of that period.
The Pointers’ first major pop hit, “Yes We Can Can,” arrived during this time; written by Allen Toussaint, the song was a funky unity anthem. In another groundbreaking move, the Pointer Sisters became one of the earliest African American groups to cross over to country: Their fiddle-driven 1974 ballad, “Fairytale,” written by Bonnie and June, was a hit on the country charts and scored the group its first of three Grammys (that one in the country category).
If the Pointers had an edgy member, it was Bonnie, who was described as “brash and sassy” in an early profile and who left the group in 1977. “I’m adventurous,” she said in 1985. ”I like taking a risk. I wanted to see what I could do on my own.” Signing a solo contract with Motown, Bonnie had a hit out of the gate with the disco smash, “Heaven Must Have Sent You.”
The other sisters, still calling themselves the Pointer Sisters, went on to even great success. The year after Bonnie left, they retooled their sound and image with a hit version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.” From then until the mid Eighties, they had hit after hit: the slinky “He’s So Shy” and “Slow Hand,” the exuberant “I’m So Excited,” “Neutron Dance” and “Jump (For My Love).” Along the way they won two more Grammys — a Best Pop Vocal performance award for “Jump (For My Love)” and a Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices award for “Automatic.”
Bonnie never repeated the success of “Heaven Must have Sent You” and endured her share of struggles. In 2011, she was arrested for possession of crack cocaine. (Their troubled sister June was arrested for the drug while outside Bonnie’s apartment in 2004; she died of cancer in 2006.)
“I was the first one to step out and start singing in public,” Bonnie said in 1979. “I wanted to be in show business, and everyone else was sort of, ‘Well we might not make it — it’s going to be hard.’”