Bonnie Pointer, a Grammy-winning singer and songwriter who was a founding member of vocal group the Pointer Sisters, has died at the age of 69. Her death was announced in a statement that included a remembrance from her older sister, Anita Pointer. "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." No cause was given.
The Pointer Sisters evolved from The Pointers – A Pair, a San Francisco-based group Bonnie formed in 1969 with her younger sister, June. The duo performed R&B covers in Oakland clubs and was part of the Northern California State Youth Choir. Anita Pointer saw her sisters singing with the choir at the Fillmore West and immediately quit her legal secretary job to sing with them.
The Pointers grew up singing in the choir at their father's Oakland church, and had clandestine sessions listening to secular radio when their parents weren't home: Nina Simone, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Etta James. Later, the siblings worked tirelessly on their music — rehearsing, writing and arranging vocals, and penning original songs — and soaking up the revolutionary politics, culture and music galvanizing late-'60s San Francisco.
As a trio, they channeled their eclectic musical tastes and stage experience into gigs singing backup for Grace Slick, Sylvester, Boz Scaggs and Elvin Bishop. Bonnie — an expressive, buoyant vocalist who effortlessly embraced elements of soul, pop and jazz — especially gravitated toward such musical versatility. "I'm the kind of person who likes to do adventurous, new things – it's got to be a challenge for me to go forward, because I don't like to be stuck into just one thing," she told Blues & Soul in 1979.
That attitude also summarized The Pointer Sisters' early work, which resisted categorization. An early deal with Atlantic Records went south after the label tried to push them toward straightforward R&B. In Fairytale: The Pointer Sisters' Family Story, Anita Pointer recalled that Bonnie was especially adamant that the group wanted to sound eclectic: "We've decided.We want to sing everything."
Once sister Ruth joined the group and they found a home on the independent label Blue Thumb, the Sisters' fortunes improved. Their self-titled debut LP, from 1973, opened with their first hit — a strutting cover of Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can Can" — and ended just as formidably, with a scorching gospel-blues version of "Wang Dang Doodle." In between, the Pointers touched on jazz, swing and Broadway.
The following year's That's A Plenty featured the gentle country ballad "Fairytale," which Bonnie and Anita co-wrote. The song crossed over to the pop charts, won Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammys, and was later cut by Elvis Presley. Bonnie also co-wrote that album's blues-leaning "Shaky Flat Blues" with her sisters and followed that up with a credit on 1975's low-key, sultry funk kiss-off "How Long (Betcha' Got a Chick on the Side)," another hit.
Bonnie Pointer left the group in 1977, launching a solo career with two self-titled albums. She found her biggest successes on the dance charts, hitting the top 10 with covers of Motown hits "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" and "Heaven Must Have Sent You." The latter was her biggest solo hit: Not only did she cut a more traditional version that featured a coda of her scat singing, but she also crafted a revelatory, exuberant disco take after she heard the Village People's "Y.M.C.A."
"That gave me the idea to sing it like that," she said in 2013. "That's where we got the rhythm and the beat. So I called up Berry Gordy and told him that's what we had to do. I didn't know I was going to scat. That was impromptu. I just did it in the moment out of inspiration."
The fifth child of the Reverend Elton Pointer and his wife, Sarah, Bonnie was born Patricia Eva Pointer in Oakland in 1950. In Fairytale: The Pointer Sisters' Family Story, Anita Pointer said that the nickname Bonnie came from babysitters observing that the young girl was cute as a bunny. In an unusual twist, Bonnie herself chose to modify the term of endearment, renaming herself Bonnie. "I like the idea of naming myself, like making myself," she said in the book. "I'm the only one in the family with a nickname."
That sort of iconoclasm would be a hallmark of Bonnie's life and career. She was a gifted visual artist and creative writer in addition to being a talented musician; Anita Pointer described her as "the visionary" of the family in Fairytale: The Pointer Sisters' Family Story, while long-time Pointer Sisters producer David Rubinson added in the same book that Bonnie was "completely rebellious. She is the spirit of assertiveness and self-confidence. She has an incredibly high energy and intense way of living."
Pointer released another solo album, 1984's If the Price Is Right, but then largely stepped away from recording, save for 2011's Like a Picasso. She also occasionally reunited with her sisters to perform. In late 2019, a fan captured Bonnie and Anita Pointer singing an impromptu version of "Fire" at a Las Vegas bar — illustrating not just their enduring vocal bond, but her outsized personality.
"Bonnie's always had a particular following," Ruth Pointer said in 2009. "She was the spunkiest of us all; she was the shortest of us all. We would all be at the hotel asleep and Bonnie would be out in the street, partying with the fans. They loved them some Bonnie, honey!"