Still So Excited!: My Life as a Pointer Sister is an engaging, funny, heartbreaking, and poignant look at Ruth Pointer’s roller-coaster life in and out of the Pointer Sisters. When overnight success came to the Pointer Sisters in 1973, they all thought it was the answer to their long-held prayers. While it may have served as an introduction to the good life, it also was an introduction to the high life of limos, champagne, white glove treatment, and mountains of cocaine that were the norm in the high-flying '70s and '80s. Pointer’s devastating addictions took her to the brink of death in 1984. Pointer has bounced back to live a drug- and alcohol-free life for the past 30 years and she shares how in her first autobiography, detailing the Pointer Sisters’ humble beginning, musical apprenticeship, stratospheric success, miraculous comeback, and the melodic sound that captured the hearts of millions of music fans.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Ruth Pointer began her formal vocal training as director of the junior choir in her father's church, then pursued a singing career with her sisters, Bonnie, June, and Anita. She occasionally stepped out as a solo artist, contributing to movie soundtracks and lending background vocals. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Marshall Terrill is a veteran music, film, and sports writer and the author of 20 books, including bestselling biographies of Elvis Presley and Steve McQueen. Three of his books are in development to be made into movies. He lives in Tempe, Arizona.
Read an Excerpt
Still So Excited!
My Life as a Pointer Sister
By Ruth Pointer, Marshall Terrill
Triumph Books LLCCopyright © 2016 Ruth Pointer and Marshall Terrill
All rights reserved.
The Devil You Say!
You always look back wondering how life could have played out differently. Growing up, our household was totally straight-laced and strictly run according to religious values that allowed for little freedom or individuality. Maybe if my parents had embraced the notion that the quest for unattainable perfection was impossible and that my childhood didn't have to be so rigid, I would have coped better. Maybe I would not have ended up pregnant, drunk, high, and alone back in the day. But those are big, hypothetical maybes. Today's version of me gets that kids need rules. They need structure and support, but they also need freedom to define themselves by cause and effect. Sometimes that means falling short of expectations, making mistakes. Getting broken.
I wish someone had told me that being flawed was more than a rite of passage. It was okay. It was part of growing up and into yourself. It was part of learning. It wasn't an entirely unhappy upbringing, but it sure was filled with pressure, disappointments, and unrealistic expectations handed down to me from my mother and father — both of whom were ministers of fear and flawlessness. I'm not knocking the ministry. All I'm saying is that it's hard to feel like a normal kid when the word "no" is the most constant word in your household.
No lipstick. No fingernail polish. No makeup. No skirts above the knees. No jewelry. No records. No movies. No dancing. No dating. No impure thoughts. No alcohol. And definitely no sex until marriage!
No, no, no!
Make that "hell no," though of course in our uptight house, the first word was implied.
When I was about 10 or so, my mother allowed me to pick out a pair of new shoes for Easter. I was constantly looking at clothes and activities to separate myself from my sisters. For some reason I just wanted to be different and stand out. I picked out the flashiest shoes I could find — black suede with five-inch heels. Mom was horrified. She scolded me and then marched me right back to the store to return the shoes. She was almost angrier at the sales clerk who sold them to me than she was at me.
"You can clearly see she's a child, why would you sell a pair of shoes like these to a child?" she demanded. In spite of her anger and my humiliation, they would not take the shoes back. So Mom took the shoes to a repair shop and had the heels cut down to where they were ugly little stubs. The shoes were permanently bent and looked like rocking chairs. My mother made me wear them to Easter Sunday and for several months afterward. My two brothers ragged on me mercilessly about those ugly shoes. It stung so bad that I didn't wear heels again for the longest time.
My parents were determined to protect us from what my dad called "the devil's work." I instinctually rebelled — a trait that had followed me for a good portion of my adult life. I had been force-fed so much fire and brimstone and fear of eternal damnation that I was afraid every time I left the church that I might go to hell before Sunday dinner.
Being forced to constantly strive for perfection through Christianity — that's just an unattainable goal. Only Jesus was perfect, and being held up to that standard meant automatic failure. The collateral damage to my youth was a negativity and insecurity that carried into my adulthood. Instead of learning righteousness and the beauty of God's mercy, love, and grace, I learned failure and inadequacy. I felt I could never measure up to my parents' expectations and that I was unworthy of God's unconditional love. I didn't realize that I didn't have to be a saint to merit that love. Lord knows, I was no saint; but neither were my folks — well, maybe my mother was.
They were both from the Deep South. They met in Arkansas. My father, Elton, was a sweet-natured man with an obscure criminal past he didn't talk much about to us. Daddy was charismatic and handsome, a snazzy dresser who easily caught the attention of his congregation — especially the women. He was very strong, yet like a teddy bear in some ways. He was passionate and sensitive. If he heard someone swearing it would bring him to tears, and he would say, "Why do people have to talk that way?" I kind of get it now.
When I was a kid we lived across the street from a community park in Oakland, California, so we heard a lot of harsh words. My dad kept a pair of binoculars near the window, and I remember from time to time seeing him use them to watch people at the park. If someone got into a fight, he'd grab his Bible and head out the door to smooth things out. My mother would say, "Elton, somebody's gonna hit you in the head if you don't stay out of people's business!" Well, that didn't happen. Somehow Dad always managed to successfully calm things down. Dad insisted that our number always be listed in the public phone book. "We're gonna keep an open line in case someone is in trouble and needs prayer," he said. It didn't matter who or when, my dad was always available to help people at all times of the day and night.
I often wondered what led my father to become a minister. Daddy was born in 1901 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He once mentioned to me that he had done some drinking and smoking in his youth, and he made it clear he wasn't proud of it. Years later, my brothers Aaron and Fritz talked about the strong possibility that Daddy got into bootlegging, gambling, numbers running, and possibly a few other criminal activities when he moved to Chicago in the 1930s. I recently discovered a census report on an ancestry website showing that he lived with an older woman called "Susie Pointer" whom he listed as his spouse. Whether Daddy was actually married before he met my mother or he was just trying to protect Susie's reputation, I can't say with any degree of certainty. If a marriage certificate exists, we haven't found it. Frankly, it tickles me pink to think that the upright, righteous dad I knew might have lived "in sin."
I do know the following story is true: Daddy once lent a trendy overcoat to his brother-in-law so he'd look sharp for a special occasion. When his brother-in-law went to my father's apartment later that night to return the coat, he was gunned down in cold blood. The hit man had clearly mistaken the man in the coat for my dad.
Daddy had an epiphany after that incident and got right with God. He hightailed it back to his family in Arkansas, eventually became a minister, and dedicated the rest of his life to the Lord.
My mother, Sarah Elizabeth Silas, was born in Roseboro, Arkansas, in 1924 and later moved to Prescott, Arkansas. She grew up with five brothers and was the only girl. She became a minister at age 14 and never lived a secular life that involved dancing, partying, or wearing makeup. My mom was the polar opposite of my father; she was the disciplinarian of the household and at church and didn't pull any punches when it came to what she wanted you to do. I can still recall her sitting in the choir stand, or up at the pulpit if she was going to be speaking, and looking down at me. Her expression said it all: you'd better straighten up, young lady, and start listening! That look absolutely terrified me.
Mom was blunt and to the point, but she was also sweet. The congregation always looked forward to her taking the pulpit because they knew the service would end on time when that happened. I loved my mom, but she kept her distance in those days. As a teenager, I was much closer to my dad. Although he could be as unyielding and straight-laced as my mom, he was definitely more lenient. When Mom would go to missionary conventions with her church friends, Daddy would allow me to do things she would never agree to. Despite her no-nonsense attitude, she did have a big heart and worked very hard to provide for her family. As I grew older we became much closer. Eventually she loosened up and appreciated who I was instead of disapproving of me for being different from her. She enjoyed hearing about my exploits on the road with The Pointer Sisters, what I was doing socially, and even got a kick out of my crazy relationships. At the end of her life we were best friends. I miss her so much.
Daddy was working as a minister when he met my mom through her mother, Roxie Silas, who saw him preach the gospel at a traveling summer revival. The revivals back then were held inside a large white tent. A stage and pulpit would be constructed for the pastor, elders, and the choir, and rows of folding chairs set up for audience members. Smaller tents and burlap bags (filled with straw) were distributed to families to sleep in for the 10-day revivals, which concluded every night with a service. Before the end of each night, Daddy came into the tent and filled it with one of those vintage DDT bug sprayers filled with insecticide to keep away the bed bugs and mosquitoes. It did the trick, but our tents were foggy and we could barely see. It's no small wonder that we didn't develop a respiratory problem or die in our sleep from that stuff. I can still smell that distinct odor of the insecticide, which never fails to immediately take me back. The best part of those revivals was the food we devoured after each service. A small stand served ice cream, soda, and some of the best greasy hamburgers I've ever had in my life.
When Roxie got home from the revival where she first laid eyes on the handsome, imposing preacher man, she pulled my mother aside and declared, "I met your husband today." As the saying goes, "From her lips to God's ears." Whether she was actually obeying God or just her equally powerful mother, Mom went with the program, and she and Daddy were married on July 20, 1941.
To borrow another familiar expression, my 40-year-old daddy-to-be must've thought he'd died and gone to heaven. His bride was barely 17. Despite the big age difference, their marriage worked. They were together for 38 years until Daddy's death in 1979. Mom told me later she wasn't in love with my dad when they married, but she was an obedient daughter and did what her mother told her. Eventually, she said she grew to love my dad.
If it was God (with a helping hand from Grandma Roxie) who united my parents, it was their kids who kept them bonded. They wasted no time starting a family. My eldest brother, Aaron, was born on April 19, 1942, almost nine months to the day my parents consummated their marriage. Brother Fritz followed in 1943, the same year my parents pulled up stakes and moved to West Oakland, California.
The Deep South had limited possibilities for African Americans then, and my parents didn't want their children to endure the harsh realities and extreme prejudices they had faced their whole lives. I'm sure that and the lure of a new adventure on the West Coast was all that was needed for them to accept an offer by a group of ship migrants to come to California and build a place of worship from the ground up: the West Oakland Church of God.
My parents' move to California was the second wave of the Great Migration, when an estimated six million African Americans left their rural Southern homes for jobs and new lives in urban industrial areas in the Northeast, Midwest, and West. At the time, the United States was gearing up for World War II and the Bay Area ports offered plenty of industrial work on the docks, ships, and railroads where goods were constantly coming in or being sent overseas.
West Oakland was one of the first settlements in the area, and African Americans began pouring into it, mostly through the historic 16th Street depot. Even in the Golden State, blacks couldn't live wherever they felt like it due to racially restrictive housing covenants. But West Oakland welcomed all newcomers. At the time, it was the largest African American community in Northern California, loaded with restaurants and jazz and blues clubs on what was known as the Chitlin' Circuit. Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, Sammy Davis Jr., Muddy Waters, James Brown, and Ike & Tina Turner (where I first saw them) were regular performers there. Black-owned businesses such as flower shops, barbershops, grocery stores, and garages flourished, and pretty much everyone knew each other.
The church-raising at the corner of Tenth and Myrtle was a community event with future congregants — mostly fellow emigrants from southern states — contributing sweat equity and labor to build a place for folks to gather and worship the same heavenly father. Once finished, it became a focal point for the neighborhood.
For many, the church became an integral part of their everyday lives. It's no exaggeration to say that there was something going on there every single day that drew people in. And being the preacher's kid meant that the Pointer children were volunteered for every single activity the church sponsored: the choir, holiday plays, Bible studies, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, revivals, picnics. It never let up.
Once my parents got settled into their new house at 1176 18th Street, they started having kids again. I was born on March 19, 1946, in Oakland, as were my three sisters — Anita in 1948, Bonnie in 1950, and June three years after that. Anita was the only one of us born at home.
Today the West Oakland I grew up in looks a lot different than it did back then. New condominiums have sprung up, old Victorians are undergoing restorations, and once shuttered factories are now artists' studios. Non-profits and community gardens are on just about every corner, and the old tract homes are now fetching north of half a million dollars. Gone is the look and feel of what was once dubbed the "Harlem of the West."
Our abode was quite humble given the amount of people who lived there. It was a two-story duplex located in a working-class neighborhood that was borderline ghetto. It couldn't have been any more than 1,000 square feet of living space. The Pointers occupied the upstairs, and the Silases — my mom's brother's family of five — lived downstairs. My cousin, Paul Silas, who later became a star professional basketball player and coach, lived there as well.
My parents, my paternal grandfather Herman ("Papa"), and the six Pointer kids all made do with three bedrooms, a kitchen, and one bathroom. Bunk beds were a necessity (including a set for my brothers in the dining room), and quiet time simply didn't exist. My father used a small space in the garage as his study to prepare for Sunday sermons. Sometimes we kids would get so loud and rambunctious my father would cry out loud, "Oh, Lord, can't I get any peace?"
I had the same yearning myself during my growing-up years, which were an endless cycle of church-related meetings and services. The week would start on Saturday night getting ready for Sunday morning. Preparation ahead of time was a must: bath, hair, getting out the white Mary Janes and polishing them up with Shinola shoe polish, making sure that Sunday school lessons were learned. It was a long time before I learned that people took more than one bath a week. We used Tide when we wanted a bubble bath. My dad was always worried about water, electricity, heating, bills, etc. I remember he made a sign that he placed over a main light switch that read: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This was a not-so-subtle reminder for all of us kids to turn off the lights when not in use.
Sundays were dedicated to the Lord from sunup to sundown. Aaron, Fritz, Anita, and I would walk the mile or so to Sunday school, which started at 9:00 in the morning. There was an hour break at 10:00, followed by the regular Sunday service at 11:00. After the senior choir sang a few songs, announcements were made, collection plates were passed around, and acknowledgment of visitors, my father would take to the pulpit and preach ... and preach ... and preach. I'd look around and see kids snoozing, and sometimes their parents, too. The best part of church was when I heard the intro to the benediction, which signaled the end of the service:
Blessed be the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above, Amen!
When the service was finally over, Daddy made it a point to stand at the door to greet and schmooze with every person filing out of church. That took up another hour. My mom used to scold Daddy about having ashy hands because he reached out to everybody. When we got home there was just enough time to eat and take a quick nap before we had to get ready for the evening services. Youth service commenced at 6:00 pm, followed two hours later by the general service, which was when the junior choir would sing. Daddy did that on purpose so that we girls would have a commitment to being there. That went for at least two more hours as Daddy expanded and improved on his theme from that morning.
Excerpted from Still So Excited! by Ruth Pointer, Marshall Terrill. Copyright © 2016 Ruth Pointer and Marshall Terrill. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Devil You Say! 1
Chapter 2 A Man Took My Heart and Robbed Me Blind 23
Chapter 3 Welfare Queen 33
Chapter 4 Yes We Can Can (And Did Did) 45
Chapter 5 Fairy Tales and Financial Nightmares 59
Chapter 6 Lead Us Not into Temptation 75
Chapter 7 Rumble in the Jungle 87
Chapter 8 Things Go Better with Coke 101
Chapter 9 Having a Party…and Breaking Up 111
Chapter 10 Pointer Sisters 2.0 125
Chapter 11 Gangbusters 135
Chapter 12 So Excited…and Disappointed 151
Chapter 13 Breaking Out and Breaking Down 165
Chapter 14 We Are the World 175
Chapter 15 12-Steppin 185
Chapter 16 Hot Together 197
Chapter 17 Man with the Right Rhythm 209
Chapter 18 Going to the Chapel 217
Chapter 19 Only Sisters Can Do That 225
Chapter 20 Ain't Misbehavin' 235
Chapter 21 Where Did the Time Go? 245
Chapter 22 Millennial Pointers 257
Chapter 23 Baby Sister 269
Chapter 24 Still So Excited! 279
Epilogue: Preachers, Players, Pointers: Who Knew We Had So Much in Common? 287
Appendix: Discography 289