Brooklyn Legends is proud to salute Stephanie Mills.
As I prepared this tribute to Stephanie Mills, one of Brooklyn’s brightest gems, fond memories of my visit to see the hit Broadway play The Wiz came to mind.
During one of my summer vacations to New York City, my mother took me to see The Wiz. After so many years I do not remember every detail, but the one thing I always remember is Stephanie Mills’ voice. She was amazing! I could not believe that someone, who looked like me, could sing with such power. I enjoyed myself immensely; I begged and pleaded until my mother took me back to see the play two more times. For me, the best part was when Dorothy sang “Home.” As I think back, I imagine that I was captivated with the songs and the costumes. Each time, I left convinced that I had found my calling in life. I would be a singer, just like Stephanie Mills. Surely after such “exposure,” I was ready for my musical debut. I memorized most of the words to the song “Home” so what else did I need to know?
Now that I am an adult, I admit children amaze me. They are fearless and, to them, everything is possible. Remember as a girl, I clung to the memory of a petite young lady, with a big voice, who stood on stage, closed her eyes and sang with all her might. That’s probably when the idea hit me – if she can do it, I can too. According to my logic, I appeared in several school plays and everyone always commented on how well I spoke so why not? Besides, when I returned home to Savannah, and reunited with my friends, I had to have something to show them. If I could sing like Dorothy in The Wiz, I would be “in.”
In one of those embarrassing mother/daughter moments, that took place during my early 20s, my mother shared with all of her friends how I stood in front of my bedroom mirror, with a pink hairbrush (made by Goody I believe) singing “Home” for weeks. She also said that I asked her “do you think if I tried harder that I can sing like Stephanie?” When I summoned the courage to how she responded, she reminded me of something that I carry with me until today – Stephanie was tapping into her God-given talent. With some hard work, and focus, I too would discover the many talents I was blessed with. As an adult, I can confidently say, I am not a singer. However, I will not complain for any reason.
In 2010 Stephanie Mills recorded the album “Born For This.” And indeed she was. Here are some memorable highlights from her stellar career that is still soaring:
At nine years old, Stephanie appeared in her first Broadway musical “Maggie Flynn.”
Her other early accomplishments included appearances on: “Captain Kangaroo,” “Wonderama,” “The Electric Company” and “String” (a play that was presented by the Negro Ensemble Company in New York City).
Like many artists before her, Stephanie appeared at the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem. For six consecutive weeks, she won the Amateur Night contest.
After winning Amateur Night, she recorded her first song “I Knew It Was Love,” which landed her the role of Dorothy in The Wiz at the age of 15. For the next five years Stephanie took center stage and made every little girl, like me, think of home.
After leaving The Wiz, Stephanie recorded albums for ABC and Motown.
In 1979 she signed with 20th Century Recording Company. She collaborated with industry “giants” James Mtume & Reggie Lucas, to record “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin” and by 1984, she had attained six major hit singles that still make me smile: “Sweet Sensation,” “Never Knew Love Like This Before” (a gold single), “Two Hearts” (a duet with Teddy Pendergrass), “Keep Away Girls,” “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” and “The Medicine Song.” These singles were just the beginning. Stephanie also recorded three best-selling albums, in two short years: “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin,” “Sweet Sensation” and “Stephanie.”
Stephanie signed to MCA Records in 1985, and she was responsible for a string of hit singles and albums. “I Have Learned To Respect The Power Of Love” (1986), I Feel Good All Over” and “You Puttin A Rush On Me” (both from 1987), “Something In The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Home” (both from 1990) topped the R&B charts. The 1987 album “If I Were Your Woman” was No. 1 on the R&B Albums chart and was a Top 30 pop best-seller; while the 1989 album “Home” was also a Top 5 R&B and Top 100 charted LP.
In the mid 90s, Stephanie returned to her gospel roots with “Personal Inspirations,” an album that won praise with both gospel and secular audiences, netting her “Stellar Award” and “Dove Award” nominations. She ushered in the new century by touring again. Stephanie has shared the stage with The O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, The Isley Brothers and Carl Thomas. She has performed at festivals that have included Mary J. Blige, India Arie, Alicia Keys, Babyface and Smokey Robinson.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I admire Stephanie’s work and her career. She began working at this pace when she nine years old. Her talent, beauty and grace have taken her around the world, and her adoring fans have cheered her on every step of the way. Can you imagine having such a homecoming every time you go someplace new? How remarkable is that?
As I was reading Stephanie’s biography, I was happy to discover how grounded she is. Most important of all, she is a devoted mother to her son, who lives with her in North Carolina. She still performs, but at a different pace given her parenting responsibilities. When she does perform, there is one song that is usually in her repertoire – “Home.” There was a time when Stephanie would not sing this song. However, after her two very good friends from The Wiz passed away, she decided to sing this song in their honor.
Over time, many stellar artists would also sing this song during their tours around the world. I have included renditions from two artists you might not associate with this song – Whitney Houston (1994 in South Africa and in 1983 for her TV debut on the Merv Griffin Show) and Barbra Streisand (2012 in a concert in Brooklyn, New York and from her album “Release Me.”)
Different performers with their own signature brand but the message is still the same – Home is where love is!
Have a great week!
Stephanie Mill’s Biography – www.stephaniemillsmusic.com
Image of “Home” album cover – us.7digital.com
The Wiz – Playbill Cover – www.playbillvault.com
The Apollo Theater – www.nycxplorer.com
“Sweet Sensations” single – themasteroffunk.blogspot.com
“Never Knew Love Like This Before” single – www.musicstack.com
“Two Hearts” single – www.musicstack.com
“Keep Away Girls” single – peepzo.com
“How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” single – www.4scat.com
“The Medicine Song” single – www.musicstack.com
“Watcha Gonna Do With My Lovin” album cover – www.jpc.de
“Stephanie Mills” album cover – www.lyricspace.com
“Personal Inspirations” album cover – www.mbhaven.com