The unfortunate news came down on New Years Day that Anita Pointer of The Pointer Sisters passed away on December 31st, 2022. The second oldest of the four famous sisters, she died surrounded by her family at her home in Beverley Hills, California. Anita was the final founding member of the group after the passing of June Pointer in 2006, and Bonnie Pointer in 2009. Anita was 74 years old.
Though most of the world will be remembering The Pointer Sisters in the coming days for their massive pop, R&B, dance, funk, soul, and disco influence through hits such as “Jump (For My Love),” “I’m So Excited,” and “Neutron Dance” that may all seem like the antithesis of what you think of when you think “country” music, The Pointer Sisters and Anita Pointer specifically played an important part in country music in the 1970s.
Though Anita Porter was born in Oakland, California, her parents were both from Arkansas, and the family would take cross-country trips to the Ozark State annually to visit their grandparents in the tiny town of Prescott. Anita found such favor with the more rural way of life, she decided to to attend fifth grade, seventh grade, and tenth grade in Prescott as opposed to Oakland.
It was during this period when Anita Pointer was exposed and influenced by country music. In 1969 when Anita quit her job as a secretary to form The Pointer Sisters with her two sisters back in California, she brought that roots influence with her, and it very much affected the early incarnations of the group.
The first major single by The Pointer Sisters was “Yes We Can” written by New Orleans rhythm and blues legend Allen Toussaint. Another early hit was “Wang Dang Doodle” written by legendary blues musician Willie Dixon. The Pointer Sisters were taking older songs and paying them forward.
This led to the song “Fairytale,” written by Anita Pointer with her sister Bonnie, and recorded in 1974 at the Quadraphonic Studios in Nashville. At the time, The Pointer Sisters weren’t looking to “go country.” The song was just a natural extension of their influences. “People think because we’re always trying something different we’re not sincere. Like country music,” sister Bonnie Pointer once said in an interview. “For us, it’s no joke…Our folks came from Arkansas and we grew up singing country songs. It’s part of us.”
When the song struggled on the R&B charts, they decided to release it to country, and surprisingly, the group found success. As opposed to being regarded as outsiders, the strength of “Fairytale” saw Anita Pointer and The Pointer Sisters embraced by country music. On August 16, 1974, The Pointer Sisters performed at the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville to such a positive reception, they were invited to make their Grand Ole Opry debut on October 25th, 1974—the first Black vocal group to perform on the stage.
Along with “Fairytale,” The Pointer Sisters also played “Shaky Flat Blues,” and unlike another crossover band from California a few years before (The Byrds with Gram Parsons), they weren’t jeered off stage. “Fairytale” became a Top 40 hit in country, and hit #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in part from its support from country, and ended up winning the 1974 Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group, and also received a nomination for Best Country Song.
At that point, The Pointer Sisters perhaps could have broke into country, but decided instead to follow a different path, even though that possibility hung around for Anita Pointer throughout her career, and her and her sisters would dabble in country upon occasion. Most notably, in 1986 when Earl Thomas Conley was looking for duet partner for his song “Too Many Times,” Anita Pointer fit the bill. The partnership struck gold, and the song became a #2 country hit.
It’s probably not fair to overhype the role Anita Pointer played in country music, but it’s also patently unfair to overlook it, or disregard it as unimportant. Though the legacy of Black musicians over the years has gone under-recognized in the genre, in the modern era, it’s unfortunately activist academics and journalists who regularly look to downplay the role of Black musicians in country music to make the genre appear more restrictive than it was, including the legacy of Anita Pointer who proved that with the right song, she could bust through country’s color barrier.