Music

When the Pointer Sisters Played Grand Ole Opry 50 Years Ago, the Staff Thought They Were Kitchen Help


The Pointer Sisters have enjoyed their share of hits on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as Billboard’s R&B, AC and dance charts over the decades. Fifty years ago this month, the group even found a place for itself in country music — and won a Grammy Award for it.

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The then-quartet recorded “Fairytale” for its second studio album, That’s a Plenty, in 1974. The song was released as a single in June of that year, reaching No. 37 on the Hot Country Songs chart and No. 13 on the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary chart.

“Anita and Bonnie wrote that song way before we were even recording,” Ruth Pointer, the sole surviving member of the original group, tells Billboard. “We were looking for material to put on the [second] album; Anita and Bonnie said, ‘We got a song. We wrote it awhile ago, but it’s good.’” Bonnie told the Youngstown, Ohio Vindicator in 1974 that the track — a breakup song inspired by Anita’s brief affair with a married radio disc jockey in San Francisco — was no novelty, “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.”

The Pointers’ own band balked at recording “Fairytale,” according to Ruth, so the Pointers and producer David Rubinson went to Quadrophonic Studios in Nashville to cut the track, working with noted session players such as guitarist Bobby Thompson, Weldon Myrick on pedal steel, David Briggs on piano, Norbert Putnam on bass, Ken Buttrey on drums and Buddy Spicher on fiddle; Anita sang lead.

“The musicians were wonderful, just wonderful,” Ruth remembers. “Those were authentic country musicians. They really gave us that sound…and the rest is history.”

The Pointers began including “Fairytale” in their live shows shortly after That’s a Plenty’s release (it is featured on their Live at the Opera House album that came out during September 1974). It was originally the B-side of the Pointers’ version of the Vibrations’ “Love in Them There Hills” but was eventually pitched to country stations, which proved receptive to it.

“Let me tell you something — they didn’t know we were Black,” Ruth says now. That was proven on Oct. 25, 1974. Four years after Linda Martell became the first Black woman to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, the Pointer Sisters became the first Black vocal group to perform at the famed Nashville venue (though without June, who was absent due to exhaustion). “When we performed at the Grand Ole Opry people were yelling from the audience, ‘Oh my God, them gals is Black!’” Ruth says with a laugh. “They had planned a party for us, and when we showed up they ran out to the car, ran us around the back and put us in the kitchen. I thought they were hiding us to make a surprise entrance. Then (Rubinson) came back, ‘What are you guys doing back here?’ We told him, ‘We think they’re keeping us here to come out as a surprise’ and he said, ‘No. They think you’re the help.’ And we’re like, ‘Oh, OK…’ (laughs) So that was our experience with the Grand Ole Opry and country and Nashville.”

“Fairytale” won a Grammy Award for best country vocal performance by a duo or group the following year (one of the group’s three Grammy wins), and in 1986, Anita hit No. 2 on the Hot Country Songs chart via a duet with Earl Thomas Conley on his 1986 single, “Too Many Times.”

As country becomes more inclusive, Ruth — who currently leads the Pointer Sisters with her daughter, Issa, and granddaughter, Sadako — says she’s been encouraged by the trend. “I love what’s happening now. I would say it’s about damn time,” she says. “I love Mickey Guyton. I love Beyoncé, all of it. Hallelujah!”

The Pointer Sisters kick off a run of co-headlining shows with the Commodores on July 11 in Tinley Park, Ill.

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