Stephanie Dorthea Mills (born March 22, 1957) is an American R&B, soul and gospel singer, songwriter, and Broadway star.
Mills began her career appearing in her first play at the age of nine. Two years later, Mills won Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater a record six times. The victory led to her being cast in her first Broadway role, the orphaned child of a runaway slave in the musical Maggie Flynn.
In 1973, Mills’ musical recording career was launched when she 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 to generate a buzz as the label could not find Mills’ sound and she left the label in 1976.
Mills’ career took a rise when she portrayed Dorothy in an African American adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz entitled The Wiz, where she began dating Michael Jackson. Filled with a more urban style of music and scenery, The Wiz made Mills a star particularly because of her stellar performance of the song “Home”. It would become her signature tune for years, and would be covered later by Diana Ross for the big-screen adaptation three years later and by Whitney Houston for her dramatic musical performance debut on TV in the early 1980s. When she sang “Home”, the musical’s answer to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, her theatrical delivery thrilled audiences and marked her as a talent to watch. One of her most appreciative fans was Michael. By his own count he saw The Wiz eight times, in part because of the up-coming film version but also because he and Mills had become friends. Like Michael, and Tatum O’Neal, she was a teen star burdened with adult pressures and popularity. Those close to the young star said she was quite infatuated with Michael. At cabaret appearances around New York, Mills sang “I Wanna Be Where You Are” and used Jacksonesque stage mannerisms. But for Michael she was a good friend, nothing more. Later in her career she often sang a quite passionate version of “He’s Out Of My Life”, a female version of “She’s Out Of My Life”.” – The Michael Jackson Story, Nelson George
Musical success was elusive until 1979, when signed under the 20th Century Fox Records record label, Mills found her breakthrough 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’ biggest hit to date, the Reggie Lucas-produced “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.
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.
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 soundtrack 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.
In a recent interview Mills stated that she would be releasing her Live CD during the end of this year and that Live CD will include two new tracks.
Her new album entitled Breathless is set to be released soon. Her new single “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.
Listen to some of her songs below