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Stephanie Mills first came to fame as "the little girl with the big voice" as the star of the hit Broadway play, The Wiz, an adaptation of L. Frank Baum's classic book, The Wizard of Oz. She had many R&B hits such as "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love," "I Feel Good All Over," "(You're Puttin') A Rush on Me," "Something in the Way (You Make Me Feel)," and "Home," along with one certified, million-selling single, "Never Knew Love Like This Before." In addition, she also had five gold albums: Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin', Sweet Sensation, Stephanie, If I Were Your Woman, and Home.
Born on March 22, 1957 in Brooklyn, NY, Mills honed her rich vocals singing gospel music at Brooklyn's Cornerstone Baptist Church as a small child. At age nine, she began appearing in the Broadway play Maggie Flynn. She was presented with first prize after winning "The Amateur Hour" talent contest six weeks straight at New York's famed Apollo Theater when she was nine. That success led to her being chosen as the opening act for the Isley Brothers, eventually becoming good friends with lead singer Ronald Isley. Many years later, Isley would manage and later marry singer/songwriter Angela Winbush, who co-wrote one of her number one R&B hits. Mills' debut album, Movin' in the Right Direction was recorded for ABC Records in 1974. A year later, she won the role of Dorothy in The Wiz. Her rendition of the beautiful ballad "Home" was a showstopper, mesmerizing audiences nightly for a number of years. The original cast recording of The Wiz was produced by Jerry Wexler and issued by Atlantic Records in spring 1975. Curiously, when The Wiz was made into a full-length feature film by Motown Records' film division and Universal Pictures, Diana Ross played the role of Dorothy instead of Mills. The film ended up being a major flop.
Singer Jermaine Jackson referred Mills to Motown head Berry Gordy, who signed her to the label. Her Motown debut was For the First Time, written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, issued in October 1976. For the First Time is a sweet affair with Mills convincingly covering Bacharach/David standards, most of which were originally recorded by Dionne Warwick. In 1978, she signed to 20th Century Records and was teamed with the hit production duo of James Mtume -- later leader of Mtume, who had a gold single with "Juicy Fruit" -- and Reggie Lucas. Her first LP for the label, Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin', went gold, going to number 12 R&B and number 22 pop on Billboard's charts in summer 1979 and spawned the singles "Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin'" and "You Can Get Over." Her next LP, Sweet Sensation (number three3 R&B, number 16 Pop, spring 1980) yielded "Sweet Sensation," "Never Knew Love Like This Before," and the radio-aired LP track, "Try My Love." Around this time, she briefly married former Soul Train dancer Jeffrey Daniels of the group Shalamar. Next came the LP titled Stephanie in spring 1981, which also was a huge hit, peaking at number three R&B and number 30 Pop. The album included notable songs such as "Two Hearts" -- a midtempo duet with Teddy Pendergrass -- "Night Games," and the radio-aired LP cut, "Don't Stop Doin' What Cha Do."
In 1981, Mills switched to Neil Bogart's Casablanca Records. Her LPs for the label included Tantalizingly Hot, Merciless, and I've Got the Cure. During 1983, she had her own NBC-TV daytime talk show, and reprised her role in a Broadway revival of The Wiz. She also signed with MCA Records, where she released her Stephanie Mills album.
The first single from the Stephanie Mills album was "Stand Back," in late 1985, which also included the passionate ballad "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love." "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love" was initially written by Rene Moore and Angela Winbush -- best known as the hit singing duo Rene & Angela -- as a gospel song and originally was recorded by Alton McClain and Destiny on their self-titled 1978 Polydor LP. The original version is available on Polygram's Power of Love: Best of Soul Essentials Ballads. Because of its massive radio play as an album track, Mills' version of "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love, -- produced by Philly soul keyboardist Ron Kersey -- was reissued as an A-side holding the number one R&B spot for two weeks in spring 1986. Its follow-up, "Rising Desire," reached number 11 R&B in summer 1986.
Her next LP's title cut was the Clay McMurray/Gloria Jones/Pam Sawyer song, "If I Were Your Woman," originally a 1971 number one R&B, number nine Pop smash for Gladys Knight & the Pips. Philly-based producer Nick Martinelli gave Mills her second number one R&B hit with "I Feel Good All Over," written by husband-and-wife songwriting duo, Gabriel Hardeman and Annette Hardeman. The song held the number one R&B spot for three weeks in spring 1987. Originally submitted to Mills' fellow MCA labelmate Patti Labelle by the Hardemans, the track was included on Mills' LP If I Were Your Woman in issued June 1987, which peaked at number 30 Pop in summer 1987. Paul Laurence and Timmy Allen produced and co-wrote the chugging "(You're Putting) a Rush on Me" giving the singer her third number one R&B hit in fall 1987. The single made it to number 85 Pop and was followed by "Secret Lady," which landed at number seven R&B in late 1987. Her covers of "If I Were Your Woman" and "Where Is the Love" followed. All were included on her If I Were Your Woman album, which peaked at number one R&B, number 30 Pop in summer 1987. Following these hits, Mills contacted Ronald Isley about working with singer/songwriter/producer Angela Winbush, who'd had hits as half of Rene & Angela and was forging a hit-filled career as a recording artist and producer for the group Body among others. The collaboration between Mills and Winbush resulted in another number one R&B single, "Something in the Way You Make Me Feel," in summer 1989.
Having starred for five years in the smash Broadway show The Wiz and recorded the song "Home for the play's 1975 original cast soundtrack album, she wanted to record the song again as a posthumous tribute to the play's producer, Ken Harper, and the song's composer, Charlie Smalls. On her new version of "Home," Take 6 sung the background vocals. The song went to number one R&B in late 1989 and was followed by "Comfort of a Man" and "Real Love." The Home LP ended up peaking at number five R&B, number 82 Pop in summer 1989. She then recorded a charting single with J.T. Taylor titled "Heart to Heart" in late 1991. Her final MCA album, Something Real, included the hit "All Day All Night" and "Never Do Wrong." Following this album, she recorded a gospel album, Personal Inspirations, for Interscope Records and in the late '90s, recorded several tracks at Philadelphia International Records with Bunny Sigler, among others.
Stephanie Mills (born March 22, 1957) is an American R&B, soul and gospel singer, songwriter, and Broadway star.Hogan, Ed. "Artist Biography [Stephanie Mills]". AllMusic.com. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
Early life and career
Mills was born in Brooklyn or Queens, New York City. (sources differ). As a child, she sang gospel at gospel music at Brooklyn's Cornerstone Baptist Church, and began her career at age 9 in the appearing in the Broadway musical Maggie Flynn. After winning Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater six weeks straight, she went on to become the opening act for the Isley Brothers.
In 1973, Mills was signed to Paramount records by Michael Barbiero, and her first single "I Knew It Was Love" was released. She was later signed to Motown. Her first two albums there failed produce a hit, and she left the label in 1976.Cite error: The named reference allmusicbio was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Stephanie Mills". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
The Wiz and a hit single
Mills' career took a rise when she portrayed Dorothy in the Broadway musical The Wiz, an African-American adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Her song "Home" from the show would become her signature tune for years, and would be covered later by Diana Ross for the movie adaptation three years later.
Commercial success in the music industry still remained elusive until 1979, when she was signed to the 20th Century Fox Records record label. There, Mills found her niche in disco music, recording songs such as "Put Your Body In It", "You Can Get Over", and "What Cha' Gonna Do With My Lovin'". The resulting album, What Cha' Gonna Do with My Lovin', was Mills' first gold record.
She quickly followed the success with 1980's Sweet Sensation, which featured Mills' hit "Never Knew Love Like This Before". The single became a #12 R&B and #6 Pop hit in 1980, as well as reaching #4 in the UK Singles Chart. 1981's Stephanie featured a top hit for her and Teddy Pendergrass entitled "Two Hearts", while her 1983 album, Merciless, featured her hit cover of Prince's "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore?", as well as the #3 dance chart hit "Pilot Error", which was her first dance hit in the U.S. In 1984, Mills had her third UK hit with "The Medicine Song" (#29), which also reached #1 on the U.S. dance chart. In 1985, Mills' recording of "Bit by Bit (Theme from Fletch)" was featured in the Chevy Chase film, Fletch, and reached #52 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart and #78 on The Billboard Hot 100.
Success for Mills had peaked until 1986, when her version of the Angela Winbush-penned "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love", hit #1 on the R&B singles chart. Mills truly returned, however, with her next release, If I Were Your Woman in 1987 under MCA Records, which she was now signed. The hits from the album include the title track, originally a hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips in 1971; a three-week #1 R&B hit, "I Feel Good All Over" (a song her label mate Patti LaBelle did not wish to cover); and "You're Puttin' a Rush on Me", to name a few of the songs released. The album reached platinum status. That same year, she appeared in the NBC TV special, Motown: Merry Christmas along with other musical artists and actors, performing the song, "Christmas Everyday", which was written by actor/comedian Redd Foxx.
Mills' success continued with 1989's Home album. The hits from that album include "The Comfort of a Man", the title track, a cover of her old standard from The Wiz and another song penned by Winbush titled "Something in the Way You Make Me Feel". It became another platinum record for Mills.Roberts, David (1998). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 367. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. "Fletch - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack". AllMusic.com. Retrieved 26 April 2014.
1990s to 2010s
Mills would record one more album (1992's Something Real) and a Christmas album before being released from her contract with MCA in 1992. Mills released a live gospel recording in 1995 on GospoCentric Records entitled Personal Inspirations. The set was produced by Donald Lawrence and featured a spiritualized retooling of her hit "I Have Learned To Respect The Power Of Love". Thereafter, Mills took a break from recording to care for her son.
Mills returned to musical theater in 1997, playing the lead in a major production of Stephen Schwartz's Children of Eden in New Jersey, which Schwartz has called "the definitive production" of the show. Mills was heavily featured in the cast recording CD that resulted from this production.
In 2008, Mills began a comeback with singles recorded with BeBe Winans and rapper DMX to name a few. She made a comeback in independently-releasing Born For This (released on Expansion Records in the UK) on 3 August 2004. Her first single in over a decade, "Can't Let Him Go", garnered buzz at urban contemporary radio. Mills is currently touring. A 2-disc, career-spanning greatest hits compilation entitled Gold was released by Hip-O/Universal Music earlier last year. Mills just finished production of a live DVD recorded at BB Kings in New York which will be sold online and at her shows.
Mills made an appearance in the 2007 gospel TV series Sunday Best and was recently featured in a live interview on The Yolanda Adams Morning Show, where she mentioned that she now has her own record label (JM Records).
Mills performed prior to Pope Benedict XVI celebrating Mass at Yankee Stadium in New York on April 20, 2008.
Her track, "Yesterday", is available for download on iTunes. Towards the end of 2012, Mills released a new single "So In Love This Christmas", available for download.
In 2015, Mills was cast as Auntie Em in the NBC live musical production of The Wiz."Stephanie Mills Cast in 'The Wiz Live!' on NBC". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
In 2002 Ebony magazine reported that Mills had been married in the 1980s for a brief period, to Jeffrey Daniel from the soul group Shalamar and again in the mid-1980s to Dino Meminger but that both marriages had ended in less than two years.
Mills married a third time to Charlotte, North Carolina, radio program manager, Michael Saunders, in 1993 in a wedding ceremony performed by Minister Louis Farrakhan. The couple divorced sometime later.
Mills has a son with Down's Syndrome.V109.9 "Happy Birthday Stephanie Mills" March 22, 2010. V1019.radio.com (2010-03-22). Retrieved on 2012-04-13   Mills in "Stephanie Mills : Interview". Windy City Times. Chicago. August 11, 2010. Archived from the original on August 15, 2010. Retrieved November 8, 2014.