Stephanie Dorthea Mills (born March 22, 1957) is an American R&B and soul singer, and a former Broadway star.
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 victory 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 by Michael Barbiero, 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 dating 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.
Musical success was elusive until 1979, when signed under the 20th Century Fox Records record label, Mills found her breakthrough in disco music, recording songs such as “Put Your Body In It,” “You Can Get Over” and “What Cha' Gonna Do With My Lovin'.” The resulting album, “What Cha' Gonna Do with My Lovin',”became Mills' first gold record.
She quickly followed the success with 1980's “Sweet Sensation,” which featured Mills' biggest hit to date, the Reggie Lucas-produced “Never Knew Love Like This Before.” The single became a #12 R&B and #6 Pop hit in 1980, as well as reaching #4 on the U.K. Singles chart. 1981's “Stephanie” featured a top hit for her and Teddy Pendergrass entitled “Two Hearts,” while 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 U.K. hit with “The Medicine Song” at #29, which also reached #1 on the U.S. Dance chart.
Success for Mills had peaked until 1985, when her version of the Angela Winbush-penned “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, which she was now signed. The hits from the album include the title track, originally a hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips in 1971, a three-week #1 R&B hit, “I Feel Good All Over” and “You're Puttin' a Rush on Me.” The album reached platinum status.
Mills' success continued with 1989's “Home” album. The hits from that album included “The Comfort of a Man,” the title track, a cover of her old standard from “The Wiz” and another song penned by Winbush titled “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.” The set was produced by Donald Lawrence and featured a spiritualized retooling of her hit “I Have Learned To Respect The Power Of Love.” 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 soundtrack album that resulted from this production.
Her first album in nearly a decade, “Born for This!” was issued in 2004. In 2010 she followed up with the release of “Breathless.”