Most Black female singing groups of the 80s had a long recording history before they had breakout hits that made them stars.
Several acts were sisters, and many still perform today with different members for tours and special appearances.
We hope you enjoy this list of the best Black female singing groups that had major hits in the 1980s.
The Pointer Sisters
California-born sisters Bonnie and June Pointer started as “Pointers, a Pair” in 1969. Soon after, the second oldest sister Anita joined the group. This trio became the beginning of one of the most popular Black female singing groups of the 80s.
They performed on small tours and sang backup for well-known artists at the time like Boz Scaggs and Grace Slick. In 1971, they signed a recording deal that didn’t launch them into stardom, but “Send Him Back” became a Northern soul favorite in the UK and Europe.
After the oldest sister, Ruth, joined in 1972, they signed a new contract with Blue Thumb records. They released their first album, titled The Pointer Sisters, in 1973 to immediate success.
Their second album produced a song called “Fairytale” that appeared on the Billboard country chart. They won a Grammy Award in 1975 for their performance of the song.
The group was so popular they released a best-of album in 1976 before Bonnie and June left in 1977. Their biggest mainstream success came in the 80s, starting with the 1980 hits “He’s So Shy” and “Slow Hand,” songs that reached #3 and #2 on the charts, respectively.
Their 1983 album Break Out propelled them into superstardom and earned them two Grammy Awards and four consecutive Top 100 singles in 1984, the peak of their career.
June died in 2006, but Anita and Ruth, with Ruth’s daughter Issa and granddaughter Sadako, performed until 2015, when Anita retired, leaving the group a trio again. The Pointer Sisters remain one of the most successful female groups in history.
Another group of sisters from Pennsylvania became one of the most popular Black female singing groups of the 80s called Sister Sledge. Kathy, Kim, Debbie, and Joni Sledge formed their group in 1971 while the oldest girls were still in high school.
Their first singles in the early 70s brought them hits in the UK and Japan, leading them to perform in Tokyo and a boxing match in Africa along with superstar James Brown.
Their breakthrough album, We Are Family, came after they started working with famed music producer Nile Rogers.
The 1979 record and the single “We Are Family” became an international sensation, with the album achieving platinum certification from the RIAA and earning a Grammy nomination.
The Pittsburgh Pirates adopted the hometown girls’ hit “We Are Family” as their official anthem, with the crowds singing it at every game and the music used in their promotions.
Sister Sledge sang the national anthem at the opening game of the 1979 World Series, and the Pirates went on to win the Series. The song and the group’s popularity continued throughout the 1980s, with more albums and several songs reaching the R&B and pop charts.
Their popularity in Europe grew through the 80s. Kathy left in 1989 to pursue a solo career but joined the group for some performances. Their 8th studio album in 1997 earned a Grammy nomination, and in 2000, all four performed at the Clinton’s White House Christmas party.
Joni Sledge died in 2017, leaving Sister Sledge as a duo with original members Debbie and Kim.
Sisters Wanda, Pamela, Shelia, and Jeanette Hutchinson were The Emotions, a girl group from Chicago that’s popularity surged in the early 80s. Like The Pointer Sisters and Sister Sledge, the group began in the 1960s and had success after success in the 1970s.
Originally called the Hutchinson Sunbeams, the sisters toured with their father and sang gospel on the stage and on a children’s gospel television program. After performing R&B in Chicago and gaining a fanbase, they changed their name to The Emotions.
Their first album appeared in 1969 and produced a #3 hit on the R&B chart with “So I Can Love You.” The group had more songs on the charts in 1972 and appeared in the film Wattstax in 1973, singing “Peace Be Still.”
In 1976, they released their third album with new partner Columbia Records, which reached Gold certification. They had several songs on the R&B and Dance Club Songs charts with this and their next album, Rejoice, which was certified platinum.
Multiple songs charted in the following years, and their single “Best of My Love” was certified platinum, winning them a Grammy for best R&B performance by a group. The tune hit #1 on the pop and R&B charts.
The Emotions achieved more hits and gold records in 1979 and multiple charting tracks through the 1980s, with a #8 R&B hit in 1989 with “Watcha Gonna Do?”
They made multiple appearances through the 90s and 2000s and appeared on albums by other artists like George Duke and Smokey Robinson. The group sang with Snoop Dogg on a track in 2006 that was certified Gold.
Their signature song, the smash international hit “Best of My Love,” is still well-known today.
Mary Jane Girls
The Mary Jane Girls were among the most popular Black female singing groups of the 80s, even though they only performed from 1983 to 1987. The short-lived career of the group still led to two albums and 2019 induction into the Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame.
Joanne “Jojo” McDuffie and sisters Julie and Maxine Waters sang backup for soul singer Rick James in the late 70s on his recordings. Eventually, they sang vocals for James’ stage performances in 1979 and added Cheri Wells, Candice Ghant, and Kimberly Wuletich.
James recommended McDuffie for a solo career to Motown Records, but they signed her as a group’s lead by mistake, so Wuletich, Ghant, and Wells joined her as the Mary Jane Girls. The group’s name comes from “Mary Jane,” a slang term for marijuana.
The group far pre-dated The Spice Girls but, like them, used each girl’s image to distinguish them. Wuletich dressed like a dominatrix, Wells a cheerleader or valley girl type, McDuffie was tough and street-wise, and Ghant looked like a supermodel.
The first album, Mary Jane Girls, produced three R&B hits for the group, including “All Night Long,” a song that appears in a 2002 soundtrack for one of the Grand Theft Auto video games. The Waters sisters weren’t official members but sang on the album.
Wells left, replaced by Yvette Marine before the group released their second album in 1985. Again, the Waters sisters provided background vocals. The single “In My House” hit #3 on the R&B chart and became their most successful song.
They recorded a third album, but it didn’t appear until 2014 with a release of a retrospective of Rick James’ work.
Cheryl James (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa), and Latoya Hanson formed the group Salt-N-Pepa in 1985 in New York. James and Denton met while in a nursing program at a community college.
They recorded a song for a friend studying record production and named themselves “Super Nature.” The track “The Showstoppa” appeared on the radio in New York and reached #46 on the R&B chart after its official release.
The group changed its name to Salt-N-Pepa, and when Hanson left, they replaced her with Deidra Roper (DJ Spinderella), who was only 15. They were one of the first female rap groups and the first to achieve worldwide popularity.
Their 1987 single “Push It” from their debut album Hot, Cool & Vicious became a number one hit internationally and charted in multiple other countries. The group became one of the top rap acts of the 80s.
The album produced a few songs that achieved moderate success on the R&B chart, but “Push It” was so popular that it’s still the most well-known song they ever released. Its popularity helped the album achieve platinum status.
This success gives Salt-N-Pepa the distinction of being the first female rap act to sell over 1 million copies of an album.
The group had numerous hits on charts in the US and Europe over the next several years, with success building on success. Salt-N-Pepa’s album Very Necessary is the best-selling album by any female rapper, and they were the first female rap act to win a Grammy in 1995.
They continued to tour and perform, with their final album appearing in 1997. Spinderella left the group in 2019, leaving Salt-N-Pepa as a duo who still makes appearances.
The Weather Girls
Izora Armstead and Martha Wash started singing together in church in the early 70s and became part of News of the World (NOW), a gospel group.
In 1976, they sang as R&B singer Sylvester’s backup duo Two Tons O’ Fun. They signed a recording contract in 1979 and released a self-titled debut album, Two Tons O’ Fun, in 1980.
Two of the songs became top 5 dance singles, and they changed their name to The Two Tons before releasing their second album later in the year to modest success.
Their breakthrough song came in 1982 with the success of their single “It’s Raining Men,” a #1 Dance Chart hit and a #2 single in the UK.
The song earned them a Grammy nomination for best R&B performance. The duo changed their name to The Weather Girls and released a third album. After two more albums, they disbanded in 1988.
From 1991 to Armstead’s 2004 death, she and her daughter Dynelle Rhodes recorded and performed as The Weather Girls. Rhodes continued performing and tours today with Dorrey Lin Lyles to honor her mother’s memory.
“It’s Raining Men” remains one of the most popular songs of the 1980s
Bernadette Cooper formed Klymaxx in 1979 with members Cheryl Cooley, Lorena Porter Shelby, Lynn Malsby, and Robbin Grider. Before they released their first album, the group also added bassist Joyce Irby.
Their debut album appeared in 1981, but their breakthrough hit came from their 1984 album Meeting in the Ladies Room. “I Miss You” hit #5 on the Billboard Top 100 chart and remains their most popular song.
The group disbanded in 1989, though some joined together over the following years to record under the band’s name, leading to a trademark lawsuit.
Five members appeared on a VH1 special in 2004, and all six participated in an episode of Unsung in 2009.
Mel and Kim
British sisters Mel and Kim Appleby formed a duo, Mel and Kim, in 1986 and released the song “Showing Out (Get Fresh at the Weekend)” with moderate success in the UK and UK.
Their next single, “Respectable,” hit #1 on the UK Singles Chart in 1987 and became their biggest hit. They became celebrities in the UK and Europe and earned a nomination for the Brit Awards for the best breakthrough act.
Their next two singles hit the charts in the UK, making their first four UK singles all top 10 hits. Between 1987 and 1988, Mel underwent treatment for cancer. The liver cancer, originally diagnosed and treated in 1985, reappeared in her spine.
She performed and recorded as often as possible, denying the cancer rumors at first. In 1988, Mel and Kim urged British hospitals to include cancer wards for teenage patients on an episode of Good Morning Britain.
In 1988, they recorded songs for a third album, but Mel died in early 1990 while undergoing chemotherapy. The songs appeared on Kim Appleby, the solo album she released after her sister’s death.
Kim released the last Mel and Kim single, a previously unreleased demo called “Where Is Love,” in 2018.
Tara Geter, Monica Bryce, and Terri Robinson were The Gyrlz, an R&B group that started as backup singers in the 1980s.
They released only one album, Love Me or Leave Me, in 1988 with three songs that achieved moderate success. “It’s All Because of You” and “Wishing You Were Here” were the most popular songs from the album.
The group opened for popular Black male 80s sensations like New Edition and Bobby Brown.
The Gyrlz disbanded in 1990, but Payne and Robinson rejoined in 1993, recording and performing as a duo. Their 1996 single “Sexuality (If You Take Your Love)” became a Billboard hit, but they disbanded again in 1997.
Best Black Female Singing Groups of the 80s, Final Thoughts
There weren’t as many Black female singing groups of the 80s as in the two decades before, but the girl groups continued to make history and achieve success.
Music from a few older groups, like The Supremes, still appeared on the radio alongside new acts, making the 80s a diverse decade for Black women’s music.