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June Pointer, 52; the Youngest Member of Grammy-Winning Pointer Sisters Pop Group

April 13, 2006|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

June Pointer, the youngest member of the Grammy-winning Pointer Sisters who was the lead singer on several of the group's hits, including "Jump (For My Love)," "He's So Shy" and "Happiness," has died. She was 52.

Pointer died Tuesday of cancer at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, according to a family statement released by publicist Dick Guttman.

The statement said that June "died in the arms of her sisters Ruth and Anita and her brothers Aaron and Fritz by her side." Her sister Bonnie was "unable to be present," according to the statement.

While the Pointers reached the heights of pop stardom in the 1970s and '80s, the fruits of that success were often bitter for June. She was treated for mental breakdowns several times in the 1970s and struggled with drug and alcohol problems. At one point, her behavior became so unstable that her sisters asked her to leave the group. She would later say that drugs had been a part of life since she was 13, and her substances of choice included alcohol and Valium.

Born in Oakland, June Pointer and her sisters began singing in the choir of the West Oakland Church of God, where her parents were ministers. The six children in the Pointer family grew up in a strict household. Their parents didn't allow them to listen to the radio, dance or watch movies, and they regarded jazz as "the devil's music."

In the burgeoning music scene of San Francisco in the late 1960s, June and her sister Bonnie performed as a duo in clubs under the name Pointers, a Pair. Anita joined the duo in 1969 and the legendary impresario Bill Graham became their manager in the early 1970s. They were signed to a recording contact by Atlantic Records in 1971, after he heard the group backing Elvin Bishop at the Whisky a Go-Go in Los Angeles. Ruth Pointer joined the group in 1972.

In 1973, they released their self-titled debut, featuring their cover of Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can Can" and Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle." Both did well on the pop charts, and the group started gaining national recognition.

On tour, they created a nostalgic look, wearing dresses from the 1940s accented with wide-brimmed hats, platform shoes and feather boas. They were among the first black women to play at the Grand Ole Opry and the first pop act to perform at San Francisco's Opera House.

They won their first Grammy award in 1974 for their country hit "Fairytale," written by Anita and Bonnie.

Despite Bonnie's decision in the mid-1970s to leave the group for a solo career, and June's increasingly unpredictable behavior, the Pointers continued to have steady pop success. They carried on as a trio act, and in the early 1980s June released a solo album, "Baby Sister."

A single from that album, "Ready for Some Action," reached the Top 30 on the R & B charts. In 1989, she released her second solo album, "June Pointer." June also posed for Playboy magazine.

After Bonnie left, the group headed in a new direction, both musically and in fashion. They went for a sleek, high-end look -- Bob Mackie designed part of their wardrobe -- and embraced a new sound, recording the Bruce Springsteen song "Fire," which reached No. 2 on the pop charts in 1978.

The Pointers recorded several more albums, including "Break Out," in 1984, which won two Grammys. A song from the album, "Neutron Dance," was featured in the movie "Beverly Hills Cop." In the '90s, the sisters found a new outlet on stage with the hit show "Ain't Misbehavin'."

By 2000, June's behavior had become increasingly erratic, fueled by crack cocaine, which she had been using for a couple of years, and tranquilizer Xanax. She eventually entered a rehabilitation program in West Los Angeles. At the time, she told People magazine that "her soul was broke," and that she was tired of "trying to hide my pain," a reference to 30 years of addictions.

The group -- which is now made up of sisters Ruth and Anita and Ruth's daughter Issa -- continues to perform.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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