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Mills, Stephanie 1957–

Stephanie Mills 1957

Vocalist

Entered Talent Shows

Passed Over for Film Role

Family Threatened with Eviction

Selected discography

Sources

Known to many theatergoers as the diminutive actress who created the role of Dorothy in the hit Broadway musical The Wiz, Stephanie Mills went on to enjoy R&B stardom in the 1980s and early 1990s. Millss agile yet powerful mezzo soprano voice is an instantly identifiable instrument, and recording and touring urban contemporary music remained the focus of her creative energies for many years. In the 1990s, however, Mills largely retired from the popmusic business after enduring financial setbacks at the hands of unscrupulous business associates.

The daughter of a municipal-employee father and a hairstylist mother, Mills was born in the New York City borough of Brooklyn on March 22, 1957, and grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Her early musical experiences included singing in the choir at Brooklyns Cornerstone Baptist Church, but her inclination toward performing probably began before that: Mills was the youngest girl among six siblings, and she grew up being the center of attention. She showed musical talent from the start and was singing and dancing for the rest of the family when she was only three.

Entered Talent Shows

Mills virtually grew up on stage. She idolized vocalist Diana Ross, and there was never any doubt in her mind that she wanted to be a singer herself. While still very young, encouraged by her siblings, she began to take steps toward her goal. She began to enter talent shows around New York, and when she was nine the family answered a newspaper advertisement offering Broadway auditions for young performers. After several tries, Mills landed a role in the musical Maggie Flynn. That show bombed, but Mills made the acquaintance of Fame-star -to-be Irene Cara and other young performers. She performed in other plays, and at age 11 took the stage at New Yorks time-honored temple of African-American performing arts: the amateur-hour competition at Harlems Apollo Theater.

The four-foot-nine-inch Mills delighted the Apollo crowds, and that appearance turned into a six-week run of first-place finishes. Mills ended up with an opening-act slot with the high-flying Isley Brothers vocal duo, and she made a valuable friend in lead vocalist Ronald Isley. Mills further honed her impressive

At a Glance

Born March 22, 1957, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Joseph Mills (a New York City employee) and Christine Mills (a hairstylist); married three times, divorced twice. Education: Took courses at Julliard School of Music.

Career: Appeared at Apollo Theatre at age 11; appeared in lead role of Dorothy in The Wiz, 1974; released debut album, Movin in the Right Direction, 1974; released commercial breakthrough Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin, 1979; toured with Teddy Pendergrass and the Commodores, early 1980s; signed with MCA label and released Stephanie Mills, 1985; encountered financial problems, early 1990s; largely retired from secular recording, early 1990s; released gospel album Personal Inspirations, 1995; various stage appearances, mid-1990s-.

Selected awards: Grammy award, Best Female R&B Vocalist, 1980.

Addresses: Agent Associated Booking Corp., 1995 Broadway, Suite 501, New York, NY 10023.

vocal skills at New Yorks Julliard School of Music, and she began to attract the attention of various higher-ups in New Yorks musical and theatrical industries. She recorded her debut album Movin in the Right Direction, for the ABC label in 1974. The album didnt sell well, but it was far from a wasted effort.

Several tracks on the album were Broadway-style numbers at which Mills already excelled, and the music caught the attention of theatrical producer Ken Harper. Harper was then in the planning stages of The Wiz, an innovative all-black Broadway stage musical version of the classic childrens story The Wizard of Oz. Mills was already a fan of the 1930s Judy Garland film version of the story, and after three auditions was awarded the lead role of Dorothy. The Wiz ran for five years, and Mills, whose virtuoso vocals and dynamic presence were major contributors to its success, ended up appearing on television talk shows, winning a Tony award, and meeting U.S. President Jimmy Carter. She installed her family in a 27-room-house in the New York suburb of Mount Vernon.

Passed Over for Film Role

Mills was passed over in casting for the film version of The Wiz in favor of her childhood idol Diana Ross, but the snub might actually have worked to her advantagethe movie was widely panned, and Mills herself, according to Sepia, felt that it could have been the first black classic, and it just wasnt that. Meanwhile, Millss recording career was taking off. In 1976 she released the album For the First Time on the Motown label; it was produced and composed by the legendary pop songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Two years later she signed with the 20th Century label, and in 1979 she released the album Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin. That album cracked the R&B top fifteen and touched off a string of successful album releases, five of which were awarded gold records for sales of 500,000 copies. The 1980 LP Sweet Sensation went to number three on R&B album charts, and its hit single Never Knew Love Like This Before landed Mills in heavy radio rotation and showed the singer making a smooth transition from disco music to the romantic R&B of the 1980s. She won the Grammy award for Best Female R&B vocalist in 1980. Mills toured with such top stars as Teddy Pendergrass (with whom she recorded the duet Two Hearts on her Stephanie album of 1981) and the Commodores.

Mills hit a bump in her career in the early 1980s, signing with the Casablanca label and releasing three albums that enjoyed moderate success. She married twice (once to Shalamar lead vocalist Jeffrey Daniel), but both marriages ended in divorce. After a reprise of her Wiz role in 1984, Mills signed with the MCA label in 1985 and released the album Stephanie Mills. That album marked the beginning of a career resurgence for Mills; its R&B number one single I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love, featured lyrics that could be interpreted as either religious or secular and tapped Millss gospel roots.

Family Threatened with Eviction

With several more chart-topping singles in the late 1980s, including a version of the Wiz number Home (1989) backed by the harmony group Take 6, Mills seemed to be flying high. But all was not well on the personal front. Discouraged by the failure of her two marriages, Mills also found that her business managers had played foul. Millions have been taken from me, she told Ebony in 1992. Mills filed suit against her financial manager, John Davimos, and was quoted in Jet as saying that when you find that those you trust prove themselves untrustworthy, it is necessary to take the appropriate action so that the same thing doesnt happen to other entertainers. The low point came when Millss family was threatened with eviction from their Mount Vernon estate, but a loan from New Yorks non-profit Housing Assistance Corporation averted that crisis.

Mills put things back together with the help of the philosophy of motivational guru Marianne Williamson. She married North Carolina radio programmer Michael Saunders in 1992 (with Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nations of Islam performing the ceremony), and, as she was quoted as saying in Jet, I deliberately took myself out of the show-biz grind. I live a normal life and only occasionally take work that comes my way.

When Mills did appear in public, it was on stage. She appeared in the mid-1990s revival of the classic gospel musical Your Arms Too Short to Box with God that also featured disabled R&B vocalist Teddy Pendergrass, and in 2000 she appeared in the inspirational comedy His Woman, His Wife. Mills released the gospel album Personal Inspirations in 1995. She returned to secular music in 2002 with a track entitled Latin Lover that appeared on the Masters at Work production teams CD Our Time Is Coming.

Selected discography

Movin in the Right direction, ABC, 1974.

The Wiz (original cast recording), Atlantic, 1975.

For the First Time, Motown, 1976.

Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin, 20th Century, 1979.

Sweet Sensation, 20th Century, 1980.

Stephanie, 20th Century, 1981.

Tantalizingly Hot, Casablanca, 1982.

Merciless, Casablanca, 1983.

Stephanie Mills, MCA, 1985.

If I Were Your Woman, MCA, 1987.

Home, MCA, 1989.

Christmas, MCA

Something Real, MCA, 1992.

Personal Inspirations, Gospocentric, 1995.

The Power of Love: A Ballads Collection, MCA, 2000.

20th-Century Masters: The Millennium Collection, MCA, 2000.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, volume 21, gale, 1998.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed., Notable Black American Women, Book 2, Gale, 1996.

Periodicals

Baltimore Sun, November 1, 1995, p. E1.

Billboard, December 5, 1992, p. 29.

Ebony, December 1992, p 38.

Jet, February 8, 1993, p. 36; August 9, 1993, p. 28; June 6, 1994, p. 32; January 17, 2000, p. 16.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 8, 2002, p. E2.

Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2002, part 6, p. 40.

New York Times, January 31, 2002, p. E5.

Sepia, April 1980, p. 56.

On-line

http://allmusic.com

James M. Manheim

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"Mills, Stephanie 1957–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Mills, Stephanie

Stephanie Mills

R&B singer

For the Record

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Growing up off stage

Selected discography

Sources

Stephanie Mills future on stage was perhaps foretold when, at age nine, she won the highly charged Amateur Hour competition at Harlems legendary Apollo Theater for six consecutive weeks. Soon afterward, her career quickly progressed, assisted by her talent, hard work, and tenaciousness. She auditioned three times to win the small part of Pansie in the Broadway musical Maggie Flynn, in which she performed alongside Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy. When Maggie Flynn closed after three months, Mills moved on to the off-Broadway Negro Ensemble Company Workshop. She also performed with the Isley Brothers and the Spinners and recorded her debut album, Movin in the Right Direction, while still a teenager.

Mills breakthrough came in 1974, however, when her stunning, gospel-tinged mezzo-soprano landed her the lead role of Dorothy in The Wiz, the all-black stage version of L. Frank Baums classic tale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The show was a blockbuster, running from 1974 to 1979, and showcasing Mills in such venues as Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera House, and Madison Square Garden. As a result, the tiny four-foot, nine-inch singer with the remarkably powerful voice was catapulted to fame. Mills appeared regularly on TV talk and variety shows, released a series of popular R&B albums, won gold records, and was awarded a Tony and a Grammy. Despite all her success at such an early age, Mills would face many professional and personal disappointments.

As the youngest girl in the Mills household, Stephanie was pampered and doted on by her older siblings. She was drawn to music from a very early age and often entertained her family by singing along with tunes on the radio and performing in school functions. But it was perhaps her membership in the choir at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Brooklyn that allowed her to hone her skills as a gospel singer. The tiny childs big voice was so impressive, in fact, that her brothers and sisters regularly escorted her to talent shows around Brooklyn. Mills early influences included Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon and Dolly Parton.

In 1974 Mills captured the attention of Ken Harper, who asked her to audition for The Wiz, a black musical he was preparing for Broadway. Mills won the lead role, and spent the next five years as Dorothy. The shows infectious anthem, Ease on Down the Road, became Mills trademark. I had seen the Wizard of Oz movie, starring Judy Garland, on television when I was a kid and I had always enjoyed the fantasy, Mills told the Chicago Tribune in 1983. What I had to do was to make Dorothy my role by bringing all of my emotions to the part and thinking about how a little black girl would

For the Record

Born March 22, 1957 (some sources say 1959), in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Joseph (New York city employee) and Christine (a hairdresser) Mills; married Jeffery Daniels (a musician), 1980 (marriage ended); married Michael Saunders (a radio programmer), 1992. Education: Studied at the Juilliard School of Music; gained fame starring in The Wiz on Broadway, beginning 1975.

Awards: Tony Award, circa 1976; Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal, 1980; American Music Award for Best Female R&B Vocal, 1981.

Addresses: Record company Casablanca Records, 810 7th Avenue, New York, NY 10019.

react to finding herself in Kansas and meeting a scarecrow and a witch and all those other weird people.

Riding the success of The Wiz, Mills became a household namebut it was not enough to land the role of Dorothy in the film version of the musical. That went to her childhood inspiration, Diana Ross. Another professional disappointment involved Mills short tenure as a recording artist for Motown Records. While she was still touring in The Wiz, Jermaine Jackson of the Jackson Five urged Motown executive Berry Gordy to offer her a record contract. Mills recorded a single album for Motown, 1976s For the First Time, which was written and produced by the renowned team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The album, however, had poor sales, and Motown dropped Mills.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

After leaving The Wiz, Mills became an opening act for artists such as Teddy Pendergrass, the Commodores and the OJays. Before long, she was headliningand wowing the crowds and critics alike. After her release from Motown, Mills signed with 20th Century Records, which released her next three albums and spawned a series of radio-ready R&B hits. The album What Cha Gonna Do with My Lovin reached No. 8 on the R&B charts in 1979. Mills follow-up album, Sweet Sensation, featured the million-selling, Top 10 pop hit Never Knew Love Like This Before and reached No. 3 on the R&B chart. In 1981 Mills released the last of her albums for 20th Century Records, the self-titled Stephanie, and hit the charts again with Two Hearts, a duet with Teddy Pendergrass. Her mainstream popularity resulted in the 1980 Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal and the 1981 American Music Award for Best Female R&B Vocal.

Growing up off stage

While the young show biz veteran was enjoying fame on stage and on the radio, however, the first of her three marriages, to Jeffrey Daniels of Shalamar, was crumbling. The pair married in 1980 and divorced after a short, unhappy union. Following the three successful albums on the 20th Century label, Mills signed with Casablanca Recordsand her popularity waned. Her four subsequent albums, released between 1982 and 1985, generated only one Top 10 R&B single, The Medicine Song. The songstress landed a daytime television show on NBC in 1983, although it was shortlived. Mills then returned to her original success, the role of Dorothy, in a revival of The Wiz in 1984.

In 1986 and 1987, Mills returned to the top of the R&B charts three times with the singles I Have Learned to Respect the Power Of Love, I Feel Good All Over, and (Youre Puttin) A Rush on Me. Despite this comeback, Mills was experiencing personal hardship. A second marriage ended in divorce and unscrupulous handlers had stolen millions from her, according to Ebony magazine. My life has gone through a lot of changes, some good, some bad, the singer told Ebony in 1992. I learned something from all the experiences that has made me the person I am today. Ive undergone a spiritual renewal from 1990 to 1992. It has been very educational to me in learning myself, through my music and therapy. Im really getting to know what Stephanie wants to do. Before, I was just a puppet entertainer. There were things done for me and around me. Now I control everything, and thats a good feeling.

In 1992 Mills album Something Real generated the Top 20 R&B single All Day, All Night, and she married Michael Saunders, a radio programmer from Charlotte, North Carolina. She has grown and matured, Sandra Davis wrote in Notable Black American Women, into a graceful, humble, and tenacious African American role model.

Selected discography

Movin in the Right Direction, Paramount, 1973.

For the First Time, Motown, 1976.

What Cha Gonna Do with My Lovin, 20th Century, 1979.

Sweet Sensation, 20th Century, 1980.

Stephanie, 20th Century, 1981

Tantalizingly Hot, Casablanca, 1982.

Merciless, Casablanca, 1983.

Ive Got the Cure, Casablanca, 1984.

Stephanie Mills, MCA, 1985.

If I Were Your Woman, MCA, 1987.

Something Real, 1992.

Sources

Books

Mapp, Edward, Dictionary of Blacks in the Performing Arts, Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1990.

Periodicals

Ebony, December 1992.

People, February 10, 1986; August 17, 1987.

Dave Wilkins

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"Mills, Stephanie." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mills, Stephanie." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mills-stephanie

"Mills, Stephanie." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved November 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mills-stephanie