Photo credits: Walter McBride/Getty Images
Stephanie Dorthea Mills (pictured) was born to and raised by Joseph and Christine Mills. The lovely entertainer’s birthday was March 22, 1957, and her birthplace was in the Bedford–Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn, NYC.
Mills sang gospel music as a child at Brooklyn’s Cornerstone Baptist Church. She began her professional career at age nine when she appeared in the Broadway musical titled Maggie Flynn. After winning Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater six weeks straight at age eleven, Mills went on to perform as an opening act for the Isley Brothers. In 1973, Mills was signed to Paramount Records by Michael Barbiero.
Thereafter, her first single called “I Knew It Was Love” was released. Mills was later signed to Berry Gordy’s Motown Records. However, her first two albums there failed to produce a hit. This led Mills to leave the label in 1976. Mills’s career took a rise right after leaving Motown when she portrayed Dorothy in the seven-time Tony Award- Winning Broadway musical The Wiz.
This classic play-to-film cult favorite was an African-American adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In 1979, Mills signed to the 20th Century Fox Records label. There, she found her niche in mainly disco music. Songs in the genre, such as “Put Your Body In It,” “You Can Get Over,” and “What Cha Gonna Do with My Lovin” put Mills on the map. Her resulting album, What Cha’ Gonna Do with My Lovin’, was Mills’s first gold record.
It was also the first major hit for the legendary James Mtume-Reggie Lucas production team. In 1980, Mills quickly followed the success with the Sweet Sensation LP, which featured her 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 abroad on the UK Singles Chart. 1981’s Stephanie featured a top hit for her and Teddy Pendergrass entitled “Two Hearts.”
Mills’s career moved with a full creative and commercial thrust of success for the entire 1980s decade.
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 and #8 on the R&B chart. On May 24, 1984, Mills returned to the theater to star in a short-lived touring revival of The Wiz.
The show’s production closed on June 3, 1984, after 13 performances and 7 previews. In 1985, Mills’s 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, #78 on The Billboard Hot 100, and #15 on the Dance Chart. Success for Mills had reached its peak until 1986.
In that year, her version of the Angela Winbush-written “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. The hits from the album include the title track, which was originally a hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips in 1971. The three-week #1 R&B hit, “I Feel Good All Over” and “You’re Puttin’ a Rush on Me” really pushed the album.
It reached platinum status and propelled Mills even further. 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” (written by actor/comedian Redd Foxx). Mills’s success continued with 1989’s Home album. The hits from that album include “The Comfort of a Man,” the title track, and a cover of her old standard from The Wiz.
This album featured another song penned by Winbush titled “Something in the Way You Make Me Feel.” In all, 1989’s Home became another platinum recording for Mills. In the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, she continued her career and remained relevant to the generations of black women who have performed R&B after her. She has been nominated for numerous awards and has reportedly maintained millionaire status throughout the decades.
Mills has won a Grammy Award and an American Music Award.