Soul Diva Stephanie Mills was born on March 22, 1957 in Brooklyn, NY, and she honed her rich vocals singing gospel music at Brooklyn's Cornerstone Baptist Church as a small child. At age 9, 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.Stephanie's rendition of the beautiful ballad "Home" was a show-stopper, mesmerizing audiences nightly at New York's Majestic Theatre from 1/5/75 through 1/28/79. The original cast recording of The Wiz was produced by Jerry Wexler and issued by Atlantic Records in spring 1975 (still available on CD).
'The Wiz' was such a phenomenon on Broadway that a film version was released by a collaboration of Motown & Universal in 1978. At this point Stephanie was virtually synonymous with the hit play, and the decision to have Diana Ross portray Dorothy may have been a key reason for the film's eventual failure at the box office. Diana was in her mid 30's at this time, and she was also the biggest star at Motown (who also got whatever she wanted from Berry Gordy), so while seeking movie stardom, she managed to look out of place as Dorothy. One could imagine Stephanie's rich vocals in the movie version of 'The Wiz', and it would've been a bigger success if the 'TRUE' Dorothy was given the role.
While Stephanie's star rose on Broadway in 1975, she
was referred to Motown head Berry Gordy by Jermaine Jackson ,and was signed to the legendary label for one album. Her Motown debut was 'For The First Time', written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, being 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. Motown's lack of promotion & production choices caused Stephanie's album to become a flop, so she returned to 'The Wiz' for another 2 years before she recorded again.
In 1978, Stephanie signed to 20th Century Records and was teamed with the hit production duo of James Mtume (Who played with Miles Davis' fusion band & later the leader of Mtume in the 1980's) & Reggie Lucas. Mills began to record her 3rd album toward the end of 1978, and after her 4 year tenure in 'The Wiz' ended early in 1979, she concentrated on her next album. The resulting project, 'Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin ?', went gold, going to #12 R&B and #22 Pop on Billboard's charts in Summer 1979 and spawned the hit title track, as well as 'You Can Get Over'. These were among the first hits produced by Mtume & Lucas, and they produced similar sounding songs for the great Phyllis Hyman ('You Know How To Love Me' for example).
The next album, 'Sweet Sensation' was a megahit for Stephanie in 1980 that charted well on Billboard (#3 R&B, #16 Pop). The singles released from this classic (& out of print!) album were 'Sweet Sensation', and 'Never Knew Love Like This Before', and the album contained other special tunes like 'Still Mine', and 'I Just Wanna Say', which are still fan favorites.In addition to having another hit album, Stephanie found a great duet partner in Teddy Pendergrass, and they recorded a classic version of Peabo Bryson's 'Feel The Fire'. This duet is included on Pendergrass' 1980 album 'TP', and Stephanie would eventually record a 'solo' version for her 1981 album.As her star continued to rise, Stephanie was adapting to life as an adult & singing star during the early 1980's, and around this time, she married former Soul Train dancer Jeffrey Daniels of the group Shalamar. This union proved to be a mistake for Stephanie, and her marriage ended in less then a year, freeing the hot singer to move forward in her career. After an eventful 1980, Stephanie's next hit album ('Stephanie') was released in Spring 1981. The album also did well on Billboard (#3 R&B and #30 Pop), and it included the classic song, 'Two Hearts', which was another great duet with Teddy.Other songs included 'Night Games', the radio-hit 'Don't Stop Doin' What Cha Do', and Stephanie's awesome solo rendition of 'Feel The Fire'.
After a phenomenal period at 20th Century Records,
Stephanie was signed by Neil Bogart's Casablanca Records in 1982, where she released 'Tantalizingly Hot' that same year. Stephanie's Casablanca debut wasn't as huge as her previous efforts, but Mtume & Lucas produced the first single 'Last Night' (which proved to be a minor hit), and Ashford & Simpson produced a bigger hit for Mills with 'Keep Away Girls'.
Stephanie Mills was now an established hit singer, and her next album, 'Merciless', was released to rave reviews in 1983. The first single, 'Pilot Error', was a top 10 hit on Billboard's R&B chart, but Stephanie really shined on the ballads 'Eternal Love', and her rendition of Prince's 'How Come You Don't Call Me anymore ?'. While 'Merciless' had better songs, it wasn't the smash hit that Stephanie was accustomed to having while at 20th Century.
In 1984, Stephanie decided to stay busy with a variety of projects, including her next album, 'I've Got The Cure'. This heavily synthesized album would have a hit with 'The Medicine Song', but it would be Stephanie's last project for Casablanca. Honorable mention goes to the great ballad 'Everlasting Love', which was never released as a single, but remains a favorite among her serious fans. In addition to 'I've Got The Cure', Stephanie returned to the stage in a revival of 'The Wiz' from 5/24/84 through 6/3/84, and she signed with MCA by the end of the year.
Signing with MCA would prove to be a wise decision for Stephanie, and she released her 'Stephanie Mills' album in the Fall of 1985. The first single from the album was 'Stand Back' which proved to be another hit, but Stephanie's version of 'I Have Learned To Respect The Power Of Love', was a classic track. 'I Have Learned..' was initially written by Rene Moore and Angela Winbush as a gospel song and was originally recorded by Alton McClain & Destiny in 1978. Because of its massive radio play as an album track, Mills' version of 'I Have Learned..' (produced by Ron Kersey) was reissued as an A side holding the #1 R&B spot for two weeks in spring 1986. 'I Have Learned..' was eventually recorded by Winbush for her 'The Real Thing' CD (1989), and Stephanie recorded a gospel version for her 'Personal Interpretations' in 1995. Mills' MCA debut was popular through mid 1986, as the final single, 'Rising Desire' (reached #11 R&B) was released. Mills' career was now back on track!!
In 1987, Stephanie's career reached new heights with the CD, 'If I Were Your Woman' (peaked at #1 R&B, #30 Pop). Philly-based producer Nick Martinelli gave Mills her second #1 R&B hit with the first single 'I Feel Good All Over', and the song held the #1 R&B spot for three weeks in spring 1987. 'I Feel Good..' was originally submitted to Mills' fellow MCA labelmate Patti Labelle, but her bad judgement proved to be a blessing for Stephanie. The title cut (also the second single) was originally a 1971 (#1 R&B, #9 Pop) smash for Gladys Knight and the Pips. It was released in June 1987 and peaked at #1 R&B, and #30 Pop. Paul Laurence produced and co-wrote with Timmy Allen the chugging '(You're Putting) a Rush On Me' giving Stephanie her third #1 R&B hit by the Fall 1987. The single made it to #85 Pop and was followed by "Secret Lady," which landed at #7 R&B in late 1987. Stephanie also dueted with Robert Brookins on a remake of 'Where Is The Love', which appears on his rare solo effort from 1987. Following her massive success in 1987, Stephanie contacted her old friend Ronald Isley about working with his talented wife, Angela Winbush who had hits as half of Rene & Angela and was forging a hit-filled career as a solo recording artist and producer for the Isley Brothers. Within 2 years, Stephanie's 'Home' CD would be released, and the collaboration between Mills and Winbush resulted in another #1 R&B single, 'Something In The Way (You Make Me Feel)' during the Summer of 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, Stephanie decided 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', the gospel group Take 6 provided the heavenly background vocals. The song went to #1 R&B in late 1989 and was followed by 'Comfort Of A Man' and 'Real Love' (produced by Teddy Riley). The 'Home' CD ended up peaking at #5 R&B, #82 Pop in summer 1989.
By the end of 1991 Stephanie contributed songs to a variety of movie soundtracks, recorded 'Heart To Heart' with J.T. Taylor (of Kool & The Gang), and released her 'Christmas' CD. Stephanie had worked virtually non-stop during her 7 years at MCA, and would eventually release 'Something Real' (1992), which would be her final CD for the label. The singles included 'All Day All Night' and 'Never Do You Wrong', which featured a cleaver sample from George Benson's 1982 classic song 'Give Me The Night'. Stephanie's final MCA CD didn't fare as well as her previous 3, and for whatever reason, she left the label early in 1993.
Following a two year hiatus, Stephanie recorded a gospel album, 'Personal Inspirations', for Interscope Records in 1995, and also recorded several tracks at Philadelphia International Records with Bunny Sigler among others in the late 1990's. The whereabouts & release possibliities of this music is unknown, but we still have over 25 years of music from Stephanie to enjoy, and maybe all of her classic albums from 1978-1984 will be released on CD.
During 2004, David Nathan initiated talks to have Stephanie's classic 20th Century Fox/Cassblanca albums released on CD, and the Diva's long awaited studio CD titled 'Born For This', is slated for a mid 2004 release on Lightyear Records. Paradise/Expansion Records in London has also released a new Stephanie Mills compilation, 'Love Is To Listen', which might be interesting to serious fans because a few rare tracks are included this time. As a fan of Classic Stephanie, I'd also recommend the awesome 'Funk Essentials' CD, which includes rare extended mixes.
[Note:This updated version of Stephanie Mills' Biography was inspired by the one written by Ed Hogan at www.allmusic.com]