June Pointer

Youngest of the Pointer Sisters
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June Pointer, singer: born East Oakland, California 30 November 1953; died Santa Monica, California 11 April 2006.

With a wide range of influences, the harmony group the Pointer Sisters had a highly distinctive sound. Their hit records in the 1970s and 1980s included "Fire", "Slow Hand" and "Jump (For My Love)", with June Pointer, the youngest of the sisters, often singing the lead vocals. Although they were not a gospel group, their sound went back to their days of singing in church choirs.

During the 1950s, their father, the Rev Elton Pointer, had established the West Oakland Church of God in California. He was assisted by his wife, Sarah Elizabeth, who was also a minister and, with very little money, they raised a family of six children - two sons, Fritz and Aaron, and four daughters, Ruth (born 1946), Anita (1948), Bonnie (1951) and June (1953). Their strict upbringing forbade films, dice games and cosmetics and the children would sing to entertain themselves. They would mimic instruments with their voices, which became one of their specialities.

Most of their singing was in the church choir and their father was disappointed when, in 1971, Bonnie and June began performing as Pointers, A Pair in San Francisco clubs. Then Anita joined them and soon they were providing vocal backings for such blues and rock musicians as Taj Mahal, Boz Scaggs, Elvin Bishop and Dave Mason. When Ruth saw how much fun they were having, she joined as well.

The Pointer Sisters were spotted at the Whisky A Go-Go by Jerry Wexler for Atlantic Records but their single, "Don't Try to Take the Fifth", with June on lead vocal, did nothing. They moved to Blue Thumb and made the album The Pointer Sisters (1973), which included their first hit single, the Allen Toussaint song, "Yes We Can Can". The album featured scat singing and jazz standards and they dressed in wide-brimmed hats, feather boas and Forties dresses from charity shops, giving them a distinctive look for television variety shows. Their parents had come round to accepting their daughters' career, but Elton Pointer was removed from office as it was felt in the church that he had not raised the children correctly.

"Fairytale", from their second album, That's A-Plenty (1974) became a hit and strangely, led to the Pointer Sisters winning a Grammy for the best country single. Their concert album Live at the Opera House (1974) was recorded in San Francisco and they had further studio albums with Steppin' (1975) and Having a Party (1977). They also contributed "You Gotta Believe" to the soundtrack of the Richard Pryor film Car Wash (1976).

But despite their success, they were making little money. June Pointer said, "We didn't read contracts in those days and we lived on the road and came home broke, but we enjoyed singing so much that we just kept on." But June collapsed, reportedly with exhaustion (likely a euphemism for drug problems) and in 1977 Bonnie left for a solo career, which meant the group was on the verge of splitting.

After nursing some doubts, the three sisters continued with the group. The producer Richard Perry, who owned the Planet label, wanted to move the Pointer Sisters in a more contemporary direction. He thought they could be the first black vocal group to embrace white rock music. His first album with them was Energy (1978), which involved Randy Bachman and members of Toto. Bruce Springsteen had written "Fire" for Elvis Presley, but after Presley's death, passed it to the singer Robert Gordon. Perry heard Gordon's recording, spotted its potential and gave the Pointers a sultry arrangement of "Fire", which went to No 2 on the US chart and was also successful in the UK.

An album of covers, Priority (1979), was followed by Special Things (1980), which included "Where Did The Time Go", a tribute to Elton Pointer, who had just died, as well as their hit single "He's So Shy". They had a triumph in 1981 with Black And White. That album included their first UK Top Ten entry, the controversial "Slow Hand" in which they sang that they did not want their man "to come and go in a heated rush".

June Pointer made her first solo album, Baby Sitter, in 1983 and her single "Ready for Some Action" did moderately well. The sound of this album encouraged the Pointer Sisters' change to electro-dance music. The biggest album of their career, Break Out (1984), included the hit singles "Automatic" and "Jump (For My Love)", the latter with June's lead vocal. They were also part of USA For Africa on the charity single "We are the World" (1985).

In 1986 the Pointer Sisters joined Bruce Willis for "Respect Yourself". June also recorded "Heartbreak of Love" with Dionne Warwick. Her second solo album, June Pointer (1989), was produced by Carole Bayer Sager and included "Tight On Time (I'll Fit U In)". The Pointer Sisters sang "Neutron Dance" for the soundtrack of Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and "Be There" for Beverly Hills Cop II (1987).

From the mid-Eighties, the Pointer Sisters lacked direction, probably caused by switching from one label to another. They did well with Contact (1985) and added a street edge for Serious Slammin' (1988) and their Motown album Right Rhythm (1989). Only Sisters Can Do That (1993) featured the trio with Maya Angelou's poetry. They did well with Jump - the Best of the Pointer Sisters (1989), an album of remixes.

The sisters toured in the musical about Fats Waller, Ain't Misbehavin' and in 1996 performed at the final ceremony for the Olympics in Atlanta. Following long-standing problems with drug abuse, June Pointer left the group in 2000 and was replaced by Ruth's daughter, Issa. She was arrested for possession of cocaine in 2004 and then a few weeks later, there was a further arrest when she tried to gouge out her boyfriend's eyes. In recent months, she had had a stroke and battled with cancer.

Spencer Leigh