Anita Pointer, the sweet and occasionally sultry lead vocalist on many hits of her family band the Pointer Sisters in the 1970s and ’80s, died on Saturday at home in Beverly Hills, Calif. She was 74.
The cause was cancer, her publicist, Roger Neal, said.
The Pointer Sisters occupied a middle point in pop history between the doo-wop innocence of the Ronettes and the stilettoed girl power of Destiny’s Child.
Anita’s voice had a lot to do with that. She sang with the speed and flavor of molasses. Though she commanded the virtuosity to trill prettily, she tended to sing too softly to sound overpowering. In “Slow Hand,” a love song with a soft-focus music video that reached No. 2 on the pop charts in 1981, Anita cooed.
When she sang lead vocals, on that song and others, her sisters provided a melodic line on backup, and the women frequently harmonized, structuring their groovy ’70s sound along similar lines to a barbershop quartet.
The group started with four Pointer Sisters — Anita, Ruth, Bonnie and June — and became a trio when Bonnie left to pursue a solo career in 1977. Anita sang lead on all three of the group’s Top 40 hits in its original incarnation, including the breakout hit, “Yes We Can Can,” from its debut album, “The Pointer Sisters” (1973). It reached No. 11 on the charts that year.
Performing the song live, Anita sang through a toothy smile, with an earnest, imploring tone that might have been learned from hearing her father preach.
Some of the Pointer Sisters’ early music, such as “How Long (Betcha’ Got A Chick On The Side)” (1975), could be fast-paced and funky, but the antique aspect of the group’s sound was deliberate. The Pointer women performed wearing secondhand clothes that could have been worn to church in the 1940s — and they sometimes even sourced their wardrobe from their mother’s church friends.
They won their first Grammy, unusually for a Black group of the time, in the best country vocal performance by a duo or group category, for the 1974 song “Fairytale,” written by Anita and Bonnie.
Working outside her family band in 1986, Anita achieved a rare crossover hit in a duet with the country singer Earl Thomas Conley, “Too Many Times.” The two performed the song at an improbable venue for Mr. Conley: the R&B television show “Soul Train.”
The Pointer Sisters charted a new course when Bonnie left the group. Its 1978 rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s song “Fire,” which reached No. 2 on the charts, was transitional: old-fashioned honky-tonk piano lines, but with Anita as lead vocalist leaning into a huskier, sexier side of her low voice.
By 1982, the group had arrived at a largely new style with “I’m So Excited.” On lead vocals, Anita sounded joyous belting out come-hither lyrics about “those pleasures in the night,” and the group came out with a racy music video to match. The song spent 40 weeks on the Hot 100 chart.
Anita sang backup on other Pointer Sisters hits, with June in lead for “Jump (For My Love),” which won the duo or group pop performance Grammy in 1985, and Ruth led on “Automatic,” which won the vocal arrangement for two or more voices award at that year’s ceremony.
“That’s something I would always hate to see — somebody trying to out-sing the other person,” Anita said in a discussion of her career posted on YouTube in 2015. “Everybody did their best. I never felt like we were competing onstage.”
Anita Marie Pointer was born on Jan. 23, 1948, in Oakland, Calif. Her father, the Rev. Elton Pointer, and her mother, Sarah Elizabeth Silas Pointer, both ministered to a small congregation. The six Pointer children sang in choir throughout their childhoods, gaining vocal training that would help the girls harmonize when they formed their own group.
Elton and Sarah came from Arkansas, and Anita fell in love with her grandparents’ home in the town of Prescott, where she attended fifth, seventh and 10th grades. She attended a racially segregated school, was forced to sit in the balcony of the movie theater and once picked cotton for money.
She graduated from Oakland Technical High School in 1965 and was hired as a legal secretary. In 1968, she saw Bonnie and June sing to a crowd in San Francisco. “I just lost it,” she told Collector’s Weekly in 2015. “I sat in that audience, and I cried, and I sang along. The next day, I quit my job. I said, ‘I’ve got to sing!’”
The sisters soon became a backup group for musicians in the San Francisco area like Taj Mahal. Once, they were warned about upstaging a musical act they were supposed to be supporting. They began recording their own music.
In addition to music, Anita amassed a notable collection of objects charting Black American history, including artifacts of slavery, segregation and racist caricature.
“This reminds me that everybody don’t love you and that you have to prove them wrong,” Ms. Pointer told Collector’s Weekly. “You’re not a buffoon. The artists tried to depict Black people in an insulting way, but I think big lips and big booties are beautiful.”
Ms. Pointer’s two marriages ended in divorce. Her daughter, Jada, from her first marriage, died of cancer in 2003. June died in 2006, and Bonnie died in 2020. Ms. Pointer is survived by her sister Ruth; her brothers, Aaron and Fritz; and a granddaughter.
As she aged, Ms. Pointer never fell out of love with her old music, blasting it in her car and singing along. The band kept performing well into the 21st century.
“It’s not a vulgar show, so you can bring your grandma and you can bring the kids,” Ms. Pointer told the French outlet Metro News in 2007. “They’re not going to get a corset in their face.”