Stephanie Mills was born March 22, 1957, in Bedford Stuyvesant. The youngest of six children, Mills honed her rich vocals singing gospel music at Brooklyn’s Cornerstone Baptist Church as a small child.
By age 9, Mills appeared in her first play, which was followed two years later by winning amateur talent night at New York’s famed Apollo Theater. She went on to win the contest 5 further times. The resulting success lead to her being cast in her first Broadway role, the orphaned child of a runaway slave, in the musical “Maggie Flynn.” Mills took courses at Julliard School of Music, and by 1975, at age 15, the diminutive four-foot-nine-inch Mills had won her biggest stage role, as Dorothy in “The Wiz.”
This led to a relationship with Michael Jackson, who was also involved in the production (he starred in the movie version, with Diana Ross taking over the role Mills had occupied on stage). Her delivery of the song “Home” from the show, became hugely popular, and somewhat her lifelong signature tune. Michael’s brother Jermaine Jackson recommended Stephanie to Berry Gordy, who signed her to the Motown Label.
Mills left Motown in 1978 and signed to the 20th Century imprint, joining forces with the Mtume songwriting team James Mtume and Reggie Lucas. She had her biggest chart success during this time, the last days of disco, under the stewardship of Mtume and Lucas, and since then has recorded with a large number of producers in a variety of styles, with varying success.
Her first LP for the label, “Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin,” was released in 1979, and went gold, to number 12 on the R&B charts and number 22 pop on Billboard’s charts. The album featured the singles “Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin,” “Put Your Body In It” and “You Can Get Over.” Her next LP, “Sweet Sensation” (number three R&B, number 16 Pop, spring 1980), featured “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” her biggest hit to date. In 1980, she won a Grammy award for Best Female R&B Vocalist. Mills’s music fame continued to ascend, as she went on to record 13 more albums.
Stephanie Mills’s career has stretched four decades, where she has seen hit after hit. Today, she is a living legend, known as a “the little lady with a big voice,” one that is wide-ranging and a fundamental part of at least three generations. Her talent continues to evoke a down-home familiarity and comfort for so many.
Stephanie Mills, we honor your talents and salute your contributions.
Moving In The Right Direction (Paramount Records 1975)
For The First Time (Motown Records 1976)
Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin? (20th Century Records 1979)
Sweet Sensation (20th Century Records 1980)
Stephanie (20th Century Records 1981)
Tantalizingly Hot (Casablanca Records 1982)
Love Has Lifted Me (Motown Records 1982)
Merciless (Casablanca Records 1983)
I’ve Got The Cure (Casablanca Records 1984)
Stephanie Mills (MCA Records 1985)
If I Were Your Woman (MCA Records 1987)
Home (MCA Records 1989)
Christmas (MCA Records 1991)
Something Real (MCA Records 1993)
Personal Inspirations (Gospo-Centric Records 1995)
Winner (PolyGram Records 2000)
Born For This (Expansion Records 2004)
*Sources: www.soulwalking.co.uk, patch.com
February is Black History Month! Every day this month, BK Reader will profile one Black History Maker born or raised in Brooklyn. There are countless Brooklynites– past and present– who have contributed to America’s fabric as pioneers or leaders in art, entertainment, sports, science and government. This month, we present to you 28! Click here to see all of the profiles.
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