Ruth Pointer still going strong as lone original Pointer Sister
Ruth Pointer turned 74 on March 19, but she shows no signs of slowing down. She has to be the funkiest great grandmother on the planet.
The legendary singer is the last remaining original member of the Pointer Sisters, who were scheduled for a concert at Spirit Mountain Casino in late April before the current health and economic crisis forced the show's postponement.
The original Pointer Sisters, who grew up in Oakland, included (from oldest to youngest) Ruth, Anita, Bonnie and June. Their repertoire has included many genres, but R&B was their sweet spot. Between 1973 and 1985, they had 13 U.S. top-20 hits, including "Jump (For My Love)," "Automatic," "Fire," "He's So Shy," "Slow Hand" and "I'm So Excited."
The Pointer Sisters have won three Grammy Awards and three American Music Awards, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and were inducted into the Soul Train Hall of Fame.
Today's Pointer Sisters feature Ruth, daughter Issa and granddaughter Sadako. Ruth has five children, three grandchildren and one great grandchild.
We'll let you know if the Pointer Sisters reschedule their show at Spirit Mountain.
In the meantime: Ruth Pointer spoke with the Portland Tribune in a conversation via telephone from her home in Hopedale, Massachusetts, where she has lived for the past 25 years:
Tribune: Almost 50 years after you started with the Pointer Sisters, you're the last one standing. How do you feel about that?
Pointer: I feel amazing about that.
Tribune: Your parents, Elton and Sarah, were both reverends. What was it like growing up in the church in Oakland?
Pointer: Very restricted. I wrote quite a bit about it in my book ("Still So Excited! My Life as a Pointer Sister"). As a teenager, I felt very confined. Our parents were very strict about who we associated with. Our activities were basically church activities that I thought were extremely boring. My friends were doing other stuff, and I wanted to do things. We weren't allowed to do a lot of those things. As I got older and started to venture out away from the neighborhood, I started to see what other people lived like.
Tribune: So your beginnings in music came from gospel?
Pointer: They did. In the church, we sang a lot of hymns and anthems. That's where you honed and crafted your gift (of singing). That first audience in the church was everything. It wasn't the typical Pentecostal Church, though, that many black singers come from like Aretha (Franklin) and Gladys (Knight). I wish that had been the case. My singing would have been a lot more advanced.
Tribune: The story goes that you were working as a keyboard operator when you joined your three sisters in the original quartet in 1973.
Pointer: I was. When my sisters asked me to join them, I had to quit the job. I went to the office in San Francisco and told them, "I'm going to sing with my sisters. I'll let you know how that works out." When we got that first gold album, I went up there and showed it to them. I said, "It looks like it's going to work out pretty good."
Tribune: The Pointer Sisters won a Grammy for a country song, "Fairytale," in 1974. How did you happen to do country music?
Pointer: We've always been kind of country. It was natural. My parents ruled the roost; we weren't allowed to play certain types of music in our home. At home, we listened to country music. That was an acceptable brand of music that my parents felt was OK. Being from Arkansas, they were familiar with the Grand Ole Opry. We would hear country songs when we'd visit my grandparents.
Tribune: And then you become the first black females to be invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.
Pointer: It was amazing. A lot of people that night didn't realize the people who sang that song were black people. They got a big ol' surprise. But they were very positive. We enjoyed singing there. I've always found the southern audiences, especially at the Grand Ole Opry, as fun as any audience to perform for. They don't wait until the song is over to start applauding. They will do it two or three times in the middle of a song. They really show love when they love you.
Tribune: The Pointer Sisters had several singles reach No. 2, 3 and 5 on the pop charts, but never No. 1. Does that piss you off?
Pointer: Isn't that something? (laughs) Damn those charts. What is wrong with those people?
Tribune: How much fun was it to play the "Wilson Sisters" in the film "Car Wash" in 1976?
Pointer: That was one of the most memorable and fun experiences of my entire career. Hanging out with Richard Pryor — are you kidding me?
Tribune: How crazy was it when you were out on the road playing all those hits during your peak years as a group?
Pointer: Probably crazier than you think. I was up late the other night and saw one of those advertisements for a collection of old TV shows. They were talking about the "Midnight Special," and they flashed a picture of the Pointer Sisters. They were going into detail describing how the groups would do that show live at midnight, and I thought, "Wow, yeah, we sang live on those shows." It was not a lip sync, and not a taped show. It was truly a midnight special. Can't imagine doing that now.
Tribune: During that time, you were dealing with cocaine addiction and at the end, crack cocaine. And you got viral meningitis, which you wrote about this in your memoirs. Did that scare you straight?
Pointer: You better believe it did. The doctors had told me, "Something you're doing in your lifestyle needs to change. Your immune system is beat to hell." I tried just stopping by myself a couple of times and it wasn't working. My children actually saved my life. They were going down the same path. They got involved in the (Alcoholics Anonymous) community, and they told me about it. Not that I wanted to do it at that time. I was so embarrassed to stand up in front of a group and tell them I was a drug addict or alcoholic. I took another route. A guy I was dating at a time introduced me to Narconon, which is a part of (L. Ron Hubbard's) Dianetics. It taught me things about addiction and health that I still practice today.
Tribune: You've been sober since 1984?
Pointer: That's the correct year. I had a little bump in the road a couple of years ago when marijuana became legal in Massachusetts. I thought, "Yay." They were making such a little thing of it. I started smoking again after 35 years. It started becoming a problem for me. The next thing I knew, I wanted a glass of wine. My kids had never known me any way but sober. I had to redo my sobriety again two years ago. A girlfriend told me, "You're in full-blown relapse." I took it upon myself to pray and ask God to help me. And right then, I just stopped.
Tribune: In 1993, at age 47, you gave birth to twins Ali and Conor Sayles. You already had two grandkids at the time.
Pointer: The twins are 26 years old now. When I had them, my grandchildren were asking me if they would have to call them Auntie and Uncle. The twins were born in vitro. I went on a lot of talk shows talking about the whole thing. It was a life risk, but God saw me through it. My twins turned out beautifully. I couldn't be prouder of them.
Tribune: The next year, you toured worldwide for nearly a year performing the Fats Waller musical "Ain't Misbehavin'." Did you bring your babies along?
Pointer: Hardest work I've done in my life. My twins were barely two years old. I had them with me some of the time on that tour. They were with me in San Francisco for three weeks. My babies destroyed the suite at the Ritz Carlton.
Tribune: How has it been performing with your daughter and granddaughter?
Pointer: Issa first jumped in when we lost June (to cancer in 2006). It's been wonderful having her there with me. She was born into this. She is the product of my music. Her father is Dennis Edwards of the Temptations. I always knew she would sing. When Issa got pregnant after singing with us four years, we pulled in my granddaughter to fill in for her. Sadako is the youngest daughter of my older daughter (Faun). Shortly thereafter, Anita had some health issues and had to retire, so I kept them both.
Tribune: How much longer do you think you'll continue to perform with the group?
Pointer: I really don't know. I talk all the time with my son Malik, who performs at the Cosmo in Las Vegas. He has a lot to do with my sobriety. We got clean at the same time in 1984. He's wonderful to talk to. We both say, "I'll just keep riding this pony till I fall off." The hardest part of it is the travel. I had a knee replacement last year and a blood clot in my lungs four years ago. I'm not as young as I was.
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