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CareerMills 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.
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.
One of her most appreciative fans was Michael.
By his own count he saw The Wiz eight times, in part because of the up-coming film version but also because he and Mills had become friends.
Like Michael, and Tatum O'Neal, she was a teen star burdened with adult pressures and popularity.
Those close to the young star said she was quite infatuated with Michael.
At cabaret appearances around New York, Mills sang "I Wanna Be Where You Are" and used Jacksonesque stage mannerisms.
But for Michael she was a good friend, nothing more.
Later in her career she often sang a quite passionate version of "He's Out Of My Life", a female version of "She's Out Of My Life"." - The Michael Jackson Story, Nelson GeorgeCommercial 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', was 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 in the UK 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 UK hit with "The Medicine Song" (#29), which also reached #1 on the U.S.
In 1985, Mills' recording of "Bit by Bit (Theme from Fletch)" was featured in the Chevy Chase film, Fletch, and reached #52 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart and #78 on The Billboard Hot 100.Success for Mills had peaked until 1986, 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" (a song her label mate Patti LaBelle did not wish to cover); and "You're Puttin' a Rush on Me", to name a few of the songs released.
The album reached platinum status.
That same year, 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 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 cast recording CD that resulted from this production.In 2008, Mills began a comeback with singles recorded with BeBe Winans and rapper DMX to name a few.
She made a comeback in independently-releasing Born For This (released on Expansion Records in the UK) on 3 August 2004.
Her first single in over a decade, "Can't Let Him Go", garnered buzz at urban contemporary radio.
Mills is currently touring.
A 2-disc, career-spanning greatest hits compilation entitled Gold was released by Hip-O/Universal Music earlier last year.
Mills just finished production of a live DVD recorded at BB Kings in New York which will be sold online and at her shows.Mills made an appearance in the 2007 gospel TV series Sunday Best and was recently featured in a live interview on The Yolanda Adams Morning Show, where she mentioned that she now has her own record label (JM Records).Mills performed prior to Pope Benedict XVI celebrating Mass at Yankee Stadium in New York on April 20, 2008.Her track, "Yesterday", is available for download on iTunes.
Towards the end of 2012, Mills released a new single "So In Love This Christmas", available for download.Personal lifeMills is the fifth of six children.
She was born in Queens, and raised predominantly in Brooklyn, New York.
Mills claims that she was romantically involved with Michael Jackson for a short period of time while she was doing The Wiz.In 2002 Ebony magazine reported that Mills had been married in the 1980s for a brief period, to Jeffrey Daniel from the soul group Shalamar and again in the mid-1980s to Dino Meminger but that both marriages had ended in less than two years.
"I also wanted to know why my relationships never made it to two years.
I knew it was me," says Mills.
"You can't blame it on another person.
That's where a lot of women go wrong...
carrying over from a bad relationship to a new relationship."Mills married a third time to Charlotte, North Carolina, radio program manager, Michael Saunders, in 1993 in a wedding ceremony performed by Minister Louis Farrakhan.
The couple divorced sometime later.In an interview with Soul Music in 2002, Mills revealed that she had a son, Farad.
She added that giving birth “was the best thing I’ve ever done.
It was amazingly wonderful and I wish I had started earlier.
I might have had two or three before, but I had some problems before in being able to have children.
But things work out when they’re supposed to...
now I’m a single working parent and loving it!" However, Mills refused to identify Farad's father.In an interview with Windy City Times in 2010, Mills said that she presently makes her home in Charlotte, North Carolina and that her son, Farad has Down's Syndrome.
"The Shriners are celebrating their 88th anniversary, and they have 22 hospitals nationwide," says Mills.
"And what I love is even my son — I have a child with Down syndrome — can get access to the best spinal-cord doctors in the country."
Never Knew Love Like This Before