June 8, 2020 – Bonnie Pointer, a Founding member of The Pointer Sisters, was born July 11, 1950 as Patricia Eva Pointer in Oakland California. All six siblings including the four sisters grew up in Oakland, Calif., where their parents, Elton and Sarah (Salis) Pointer, were pastor and minister and where the sisters honed their vocal skills at the West Oakland Church of God.
Bonnie and June, the two youngest sisters, began performing in 1969 under the name The Pointers — A Pair. Anita Pointer later said she quit her job as a legal secretary after seeing Bonnie and June onstage in San Francisco. “I saw them at the Fillmore West, and I lost my mind,” she said, adding that Bonnie was “the catalyst” in starting their musical career.
Renamed the Pointer Sisters, the three began working as backup singers. Mingling with the San Francisco-area rock scene, they sang with acts like Boz Scaggs, Grace Slick and the gender-bending pioneer Sylvester, and they were briefly signed to Atlantic Records. Their singles for that label failed to chart, although one 1972 B-side, “Send Him Back,” has over time come to be considered a minor funk classic.
In their first career as a vocal group, starting in the early 1970s, the Pointer Sisters were a threesome with a dynamic, genre-crossing style. They sang in crisp, close harmonies and dabbled in scat vocals, and they wore 1940s fashions with a sense of thrift-store chic. Admiring critics called them a mix between the Andrews Sisters and the Supremes.
Then joined by their sister Ruth, the quartet signed with the progressive label Blue Thumb, where they thrived. Their debut album, called simply “The Pointer Sisters” (1973), featured a musky take on Allen Toussaint’s unity anthem “Yes We Can Can” as well as a rapid-fire version of “Cloudburst,” a staple of the jazz vocal group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross’s repertoire. “Yes We Can Can” went to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
Bonnie Pointer distinguished herself as a songwriter as well. “Fairytale,” written by Bonnie and Anita for the group’s 1974 album, “That’s a Plenty,” was a melancholy country breakup ballad that brought the group the first of its three Grammy Awards, for best country performance by a duo or group. Bonnie was also one of the credited writers for “How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side),” from 1975, one of the Pointer Sisters’ best-loved funk tracks, which was later sampled by the female rap group Salt-N-Pepa.
She left the group in the late 1970s and signed with Motown; she also married Jeffrey Bowen, a producer there. Her two albums for that label were heavy with disco remakes of 1960s Motown singles, like the Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” with Ms. Pointer recording most of the vocal parts herself. The most successful in this formula was “Heaven Must Have Sent You,” which went to No. 11 in 1979.
As an explanation for leaving the quartet she said: “I’m the kind of person who likes to do adventurous, new things,” to the Blues & Soul magazine in 1979. “It’s got to be a challenge for me to go forward, ’cause I don’t like to be stuck into just one thing.”
After that the Pointer Sisters had to reinvent themselves as a trio, with a closer focus on the pop and rock mainstream. Their version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” went to No. 2 in early 1979, and for the first half of the 1980s the group was a phenomenon. “He’s So Shy” (1980), “Jump (For My Love)” (1984), “I’m So Excited” (1984) and “Neutron Dance” (1985) were ubiquitous hits that presented the group as sassy, earthy dance-pop queens who had seen it all. In 1985, the Pointer Sisters won two more Grammys: best pop performance by a duo or group, fr “Jump,” and best vocal arrangement, for “Automatic.”
Bonnie Pointer released two more albums after leaving Motown — “If the Price Is Right” (1984) and “Like a Picasso” (2011) — but never found the same success she had enjoyed in the Pointer Sisters. In 2011, she was arrested on charges of possession of crack cocaine. But Anita said they had remained close, and this year she and Bonnie released “Feels Like June” in tribute to their sister.
Bonnie’s voice in the original group’s four-part harmonies, Anita said, was essential but hard to pinpoint. “Bonnie was that magic note,” Anita Pointer said, “that no one could ever find.”
Bonnie Pointer, who was one of the founding siblings of the Pointer Sisters, the vocal group that built an eclectic career in the 1970s mixing funk, retro jazz and country, but who left the band before its pop reinvention in the 1980s, died on Monday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 69. The cause was cardiac arrest, Anita Pointer said.
Besides Anita, she is survived by her sister Ruth and her brothers Aaron and Fritz Pointer. Her marriage to Mr. Bowen ended in divorce in 2016. Sister June Pointer died of cancer in 2006 at age 52.