B.B. King Blues Club, Set @ 8pm; Doors @ 6pm
~ Stephanie Mills ~ Before The Color Purple: The Musical broke attendance records, before Jennifer Holiday starred in the Broadway production of Dream Girls, paving the way for Jennifer Hudson’s Academy Award-winning performance in the film version a generation later, and before Phyllis Hyman, Gregory Hines, and Judith Jamison all graced the stage in the Tony Award-winning musical Sophisticated Ladies, there was a little musical that starred a little girl with a real big voice. The musical was The Wiz. The girl was Stephanie Mills.
Though Mills had been performing on stage since the age of nine and made her first Broadway appearance in the 1968 musical Mary Flynn, it was her big voice that was her claim to fame. She was cast in her first Broadway play after winning the legendary Amateur Night contest at the world-famous Apollo Theater six times. Although she made her first album of show tunes, Movin’ in the Right Direction, in 1974, her breakthrough as a solo artist came in the disco world with the 1979 album What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin’ (1979). The title track became Mills’s first certified hit and remains a club classic today. Crossover success would have to wait a year until Sweet Sensation (1980), which produced the Grammy-winning Top 10 pop ballad “Never Knew Love Like This.” Coming-of-age productions, both these hits helped Mills step out of the long shadow of her own child stardom.
After a brief stint on Casablanca Records in the early ’80s, Mills signed with MCA in 1985 and began what was her most successful period in the music industry. She topped the charts with R&B tracks like “I Feel Good All Over,” “(You’re Puttin’) A Rush on Me,” and “Something in the Way (You Make Me Feel).” Like many of her peers at the time – the Anita Bakers and Regina Belles of the world – Mills eventually fell victim to the youth movement in the industry and on black radio, and her popularity declined. She moved onto other things, releasing a gospel album, taking the stage again in a Steven Schwartz’s Children of Eden, and becoming a mother. The new millennium has seen her return to the popular music world with 2004’s Born for This and Breathless (2010), her latest release.