Stephanie 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 victories 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 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 a friendship or relationship (depends who you ask) with 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.
Commercial success was elusive until 1979, when signed under the 20th Century Fox Records record label, Mills found her breakthrough in disco music. 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, “Never Knew Love Like This Before”.
After a string of hits in the 1980s, 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 “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. 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.
Mills made an appearance in the 2007 gospel TV series Sunday Best and was featured in a live interview on The Yolanda Adams Morning Show, where she mentioned that she now has her own record label (JM Records). She performed prior to Pope Benedict XVI celebrating Mass at Yankee Stadium in New York on April 20, 2008. Towards the end of 2012, Mills released a new single “So In Love This Christmas”, available for download.
What Cha Gonna Do with My Lovin’
Wish That You Were Mine