Six essential songs to remember the late Bonnie Pointer by - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Singer Bonnie Pointer, one of the founding members of the Oakland R&B group The Pointer Sisters, died on Monday at the age of 69. The cause of death was confirmed as cardiac arrest. Pointer’s music career stretched from 1969 to 2020, with a prolific presence both as a member of The Pointer Sisters and later as a solo act. In honor of her legendary career, here are six essential Bonnie Pointer songs.

“Yes We Can Can”

Bonnie and June Pointer began singing together in their father’s church in Oakland, California, and formed The Pointers (or The Pair) in 1969. The group was re-christened The Pointer Sisters when Anita joined the duo later that year. In 1972, they recruited their oldest sister Ruth, and the Pointer Sisters’ self-titled debut album was released in 1973. This first single, “Yes We Can Can,” was a funk number written by Allen Toussaint and preaching unity and tolerance. It reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100, #12 on the Hot Soul Songs chart, spurred several covers, and has been featured in the films The Associate, Big Momma’s House, Ali, Maid in Manhattan, and Sunday Driver.


In 1974, Anita and Bonnie co-wrote this country-flavored single, a marked departure from the swing sound they had cultivated in previous releases. The more conventional “Steam Heat” was chosen as the advance single for album That’s a Plenty, but when both that track and “Love in Them There Hills” were overlooked by charts and radio stations, “Fairytale” was pitched to country stations, where it took firm root. By performing the song at the Grand Ole Opry later that year, the Pointer Sisters became the first African-American vocal group to perform at the historic Nashville venue, and “Fairytale” would win the group its first Grammy, for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group. Bonnie said of the song, “People think because we’re always trying something different we’re not sincere. Like country music. For us, it’s no joke … Our folks came from Arkansas and we grew up singing country songs. It’s part of us.”

“Heaven Must Have Sent You”

Bonnie left the Pointer Sisters in 1977 to pursue a solo career. While her sisters would continue to produce such hits as “Jump (For My Love)” and “Automatic,” Bonnie would go on to sign with Motown and embark on a successful solo career. Shortly after signing, she released a disco cover of The Elgins’ 1966 R&B song “Heaven Must Have Sent You.” She said of the cover, “I wanted to cut that tune and the other old Motown tune: ‘When I’m Gone,’ simply because I’ve always dug them. I can’t say I’m surprised that ‘Heaven’ is a hit cause that’s what we planned for it to be!” Featuring violins, chimes, bass guitar, and a brief Louis Armstrong impression in the outro, “Heaven” became a hit in the summer of 1979, peaking at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“The Beast In Me”

After releasing two albums with Motown Records in 1978 and 1979, Pointer fell into contractual dispute and wouldn’t release an album again until 1984’s If the Price Is Right, released by Private I Records. One of the tracks on that record, “The Beast In Me,” was featured in the 1984 film Heavenly Bodies, about two aerobics instructors competing for a position on a fitness television show. Coming less than a year after Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” “The Beast In Me” was also part of the early music video boom, with a video showing Pointer dancing in an animal-print leotard, with a brief appearance by Samantha Blair (Cynthia Dale), the lead character of Heavenly Bodies.

“Strangest Day”

After 1984’s If the Price is Right, Bonnie took a step back from releasing new music. She continued performing, and contributed her songwriting talents to performers like Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and Gloria Gaynor, and reunited a few times with the other Pointer Sisters. She appeared as herself in the 2010 Monte Hellman film Road to Nowhere, but was eager to get back into the studio. The result was 2011 album Like A Picasso, released by Strangest Day/Platinum Trini Entertainment. “Strangest Day” was the lead-off single to Bonnie’s final solo album, a roots-rocking Americana number that called back the country stylings of “Fairytale.” Like A Picasso showcased Pointer’s versatility in performance and desire to transcend genre, performing what she wanted, rather than what may have been expected of her.

“Feels Like June”

June Pointer, the youngest of the sisters, died in 2006 at the age of 52. During her hospitalization after a stroke in early 2006, she was diagnosed with a cancer that had already metastasized in her breast, colon, liver and bones. In February 2020, Anita and Bonnie, performing once more under the name of The Pointer Sisters, released a poignant tribute song, “Feels Like June.” It was Bonnie’s final recording.

Bonnie Pointer is survived by her brothers Aaron and Fritz, and her sisters Ruth and Anita.

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