Bonnie Pointer, a founding member of the Grammy-winning sibling vocal group the Pointer Sisters, has died at age 69, according to a statement released by her sister and bandmate Anita Pointer to TMZ. “It is with great sadness that I have to announce to the fans of the Pointer Sisters that my sister Bonnie died this morning,” Anita announced Monday. “Our family is devastated, on behalf of my siblings and I and the entire Pointer family, we ask for your prayers at this time. … 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.” A cause of death was not revealed.
Bonnie was born July 11, 1950 and came of age during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the ‘60s. (Her activist older brother, Fritz, was a college major in African studies, sociology, and theology who organized study groups and civil rights meetings in the Pointer family’s hometown of in Oakland, Calif.) After singing gospel music at a local Church of God in Christ congregation in West Oakland as a child, Bonnie founded the Pointer Sisters with the family’s youngest sister, June, in 1969.
Although Bonnie and June’s strict parents, Reverend Elton Pointer and Sarah Pointer, looked down upon rock ‘n’ roll as “the devil’s music,” the secular group, which later included sisters Anita and Ruth, became darlings of the late-‘60s/early-‘70s San Francisco rock scene. Through their friendship with David Rubinson, a record producer affiliated with legendary concert promoter Bill Graham, soon the Pointers were performing onstage and in the studio as background singers for the likes of Grace Slick, Boz Scaggs, Elvin Bishop, and even Sylvester and the notorious performance/drag troupe the Cockettes. After an A&R scout caught their act with Bishop, they were offered a deal with Atlantic Records in 1971.
A string of singles for Atlantic proved unsuccessful, in part due to the sisters’ refusal to pigeonhole themselves (even their ‘30s/’40s retro image, reminiscent of Billie Holiday and the Andrews Sisters, was out of step with the times). The Pointer Sisters moved over to Blue Thumb Records to release their self-titled debut album, thus embarking in earnest on a long career that crossed genres, encompassing disco, jazz, dance music, R&B, pop, and even country. Their first hit was a 1973 cover of the funky, Allen Toussaint-penned Lee Dorsey sociopolitical anthem “Yes Yes We Can Can.” Their single “Fairytale,” co-written by Bonnie and Anita, established them as the second black artist (and the first and, to date, only black group) to win a country music Grammy, when it picked up the award for Best Country Vocal Performance in 1975. The Pointer Sisters also became the first black group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry thanks to the crossover success of “Fairytale,” which was later covered by Elvis Presley.