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Catching Up with '80s R&B Singer, Stephanie Mills

Updated on July 9, 2017
Stephanie Mills | "The Wiz" Fandom Wiki
Stephanie Mills | "The Wiz" Fandom Wiki | Source

Stephanie Dorthea Mills was born on March 22, 1957 in Brooklyn, New York. Like many soul and R&B artists, Mills grew up singing in her church. Members of the Brooklyn Cornerstone Baptist Church were the first to experience the depth of Mills’ powerful vocals.

At only 9 years old, she experienced the thrill of success, as she appeared in the Broadway musical, Maggie Flynn. Maggie Flynn was inspired by a true story that occurred in the New York Draft Riots of 1963. Mills’ role in the musical was as an African American child endangered by the draft riots.

At the ripe old age of 11, Mills won Amateur Night at the historical Apollo Theater in Harlem, six times in a row. After her success at Apollo, she began touring with the Isley Brothers.

Mills signed record deals with Paramount records and then Motown, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that she experienced true commercial success...back on Broadway,

The Cast of The Wiz from the Original Broadway Production
The Cast of The Wiz from the Original Broadway Production | Source

The Wiz on Broadway

Just as L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel, The Wizard of OZ, propelled starlet Judy Garland to show-biz success, the urban retelling of Baum’s story did the same for Stephanie Mills.

Although most audiences associate classic soul singer, Diana Ross, with the role of Dorothy in The Wiz, it was Stephanie Mills who originated the role, and she did it on Broadway.

The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical Wonderful Wizard of Oz premiered at Broadway’s Majestic Theater on January 5, 1975. Stephanie Mills was the star of the show, as Dorothy. The rest of the original cast of The Wiz included Mabel King (What’s Happening) as Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, Dee Dee Bridgewater (Jazz Singer) as Glinda, The Good Witch of the South, Clarice Taylor (Cosby Show) as Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North, and Phylicia Rashad (Cosby Show) as a Munchkin.

The Wiz became a smash hit, and an important achievement for African Americans in the Arts. The musical, along with other hits, like Purlie, and A Raisin in the Sun, paved the way for other Broadway musical hits to follow, such as Dreamgirls and The Color Purple.

Mills’ performance of the song Home in the show won her unprecedented acclaim. Home was covered years later by Diana Ross in the film adaptation of the musical, but many consider Mills’ version the standout.

Young Stephanie Mills was now a bona-fide success in the show business industry, and it wasn’t long until her incredible voice would take her to cross-over success in the music industry.

"Home" by Stephanie Mills (from The Wiz / Studio Recording)

80’s R&B/Soul Success

At the end of the 1970s, beginning of the 80s, Disco was the dying, but reigning force of music in the U.S. But, R&B and Soul was gaining on Disco and this is where Stephanie Mills first found true commercial success in music.

Under the direction of 20th Century Fox Records, Mills recorded “What Cha’ Gonna Do With My Lovin,” the resulting album of the same name became a huge success, and her first gold record.

Next, Mills was featured on a duet with Teddy Pendergrass on the sultry, sexy rendition of a Peabo Bryson tune, “Feel the Fire.” Soon after, Mills’ churned out her own 80s R&B hits, such as a “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” “Two Hearts,” which was a second collaboration with 80s R&B super star, Teddy Pendergrass, and “The Medicine Song.”

Hollywood came searching for the R&B diva, when her song “Bit by Bit” was featured in the 1985 Chevy Chase action/comedy film, Fletch, featuring Chase, Geena Davis and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Stephanie Mills & Former Husband, Dino Meminger
Stephanie Mills & Former Husband, Dino Meminger

At some point during the 1980s, Stephanie Mills was married and divorced from actor, Dino Meminger, who is known mostly for his work on Living Single and That 70s Show. It is reported that Memiger passed away in 2004.

In the late 80s, Mills experienced continued success, but her heyday began winding down. She released another hit song “I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love,” which was written by another woman with a powerful, Angela Winbush, and “If I Were Your Woman.” Fellow soul diva, Patti LaBelle passed on the chance to cover Mills’ next hit, “I Feel Good All Over,” which was followed with “You’re Puttin’ a Rush on Me.”

She finished out the 80s with a singing appearance on an NBC television special, Motown: Merry Christmas, which was written by comedian Redd Foxx, and an album titled Home, which included hits like “The Comfort of a Man,” “Something in the Way You Make Me Feel,” and of course, her Broadway hit, “Home.”

"What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin'" by Stephanie Mills

Stephanie Mills & Former Husband Jeffrey Daniel of the 80's R&B Group "Shalimar"
Stephanie Mills & Former Husband Jeffrey Daniel of the 80's R&B Group "Shalimar"

Fading from Mainstream Music & Returning to Christian Roots

In the late 1980’s, around the time she released her hit R&B song, “If I Were Your Woman,” Stephanie Mills migrated from 20th Century Fox Records to MCA Records. In the early 1990s, Mills headlined a revival of The Wiz, which was successful, but short-lied. she recorded two more albums, which experienced mild success. Around the same time, her contract with MCA came to an end, and so too did her fast-paced mainstream R&B recording activity.

In the late 1990s, Mills appeared in a production of “Children of Eden” in New Jersey. The Biblical storyline is based on the Book of Genesis; Act I features the story of Adam and Eve, and Cain, and Abel, and Act II surrounds the events of Noah and the Flood.

“Children of Eden’s” lyricist and composer, Stephen Schwartz, hailed her performance as being the “definitive production,” and her songs were the focus of the cast recorded album.

2002 brought marriage to fellow 80s R&B recording artist, Jeffrey Daniel. Daniel is known mostly for his involvement in the 80s funk group, Shalimar, alongside popular recording artists, Howard Hewitt and Jody Watley. Two years later, the couple were divorced.

In the years that followed her enormous R&B success in the 1980s, Stephanie Mills has quietly recorded songs with gospel titan, Be Be Winans and rap/Hip-Hop artist DMX. In

In 2015, More than 40 years after the original Broadway production of The Wiz, Stephanie Mills was cast as Auntie Em, in the live televised NBC Musical Production of The Wiz. This time around, Mills performed alongside Queen Latifah, Common, Amber Riley, Ne-Yo, David Alan Grier, Uzo Aduba, Elijah Kelley, and Mary J. Blige – newcomer, Shanice Williams played the role of Dorothy.

Mo'Nique Interviews Stephanie Mills

Stephanie Mills & her son, Farad
Stephanie Mills & her son, Farad

Stephanie Mills Today

According to an interview which appeared in the New York Daily News in May, 2017, Mills claimed her ex-manager, Hiriam Hicks, mishandled her finances. She’s currently considering legal action against the music mogul.

Mills’ chief duty is raising Farad, her special needs son, who is approximately thirteen years old. In between being a mother to Farad, which she gushes is her “greatest accomplishment,” she’s currently on tour.

In the hearts and minds of many members of Generation X, Stephanie Mills will always be the Grammy winning, diminutive songbird with the HUGE voice! We love you, Stephanie, and we’ll be there to cheer you on anytime you feel like returning to the stage or the studio….

Find out when the Stephanie Mills tour is coming to your town, at Live Nation.

I Feel Good All Over by Stephanie Mills

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    • Nyamweya profile image

      Silas Nyamweya 2 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Nice article, it was interesting to read it