“When I think of home, I think of a place where there’s love overflowing.”
When many of us think of home, we think of a place where there’s Stephanie Mills in the role of Dorothy in the Broadway musical The Wiz. We think of a pint sized diva with powerhouse vocals that remind us that love is all about “Something in the Way You Make Me Feel.”
Stephanie Mills is noted as one of the music’s most soulful vocalists with sixteen albums and a slew of awards and nominations under her belt. However, the songstress took a hiatus from the music industry for several years. Mills says, “I took myself out of the business. I wanted to just live a normal life for a minute.” Now the singer is currently working on new music and plans to give fans what they have been yearning for, some soul rendering vocals that can take you back “Home.”
Soultrain.com caught up with Stephanie Mills to discuss her longevity in the music industry and why reality television isn’t the yellow brick road she’ll be following.
Soul Train: What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
Stephanie Mills: I’ve had some wonderful highlights in my career. I would absolutely have to say The Wiz of course, winning my Grammy for “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” and just a couple of years ago I received a hip hop award for having the most Billboard hits, so that was a highlight. Also, just meeting all of the wonderful people that I have had a chance to meet and talk to, get advice from, I’ve just really had a wonderful career.
Soul Train: What is the best advice that you’ve ever received?
Stephanie Mills: I think the best advice that I’ve ever received was actually from Lena Horne. She came to see me in The Wiz and she said there’s going to be rough roads and challenges that you go through, but everything will be okay, just to keep your head on straight and remember who you are and always try to please yourself. That was the best advice.
Soul Train: What would you say is the key to your longevity?
Stephanie Mills: I took myself out of the business. I got to a point where it was just too much for me. I wanted to get out of my record contract and just live a normal life for a minute, I mean because it’s a lot to deal with, a lot that your family and friends have to deal with. So I kind of backed off of it, and it’s the best thing that I’ve ever done. I dissolved my record contract and was only singing when I wanted to sing. So, I think my longevity is that I knew when to back out of it and keep my sanity. It’s a lot to handle when you’re at the top of your game, and everyone wants a piece of you and they chip away at you, so it’s easy to lose yourself, so for me, I had to back away.
Soul Train: There have been some people in the industry that say, some of the artists that are out now, while they may be hot for right now, may not even be remembered in 30 years from now because of the type of music. With that being said, what do you think is missing in music today versus 20 to 30 years ago?
Stephanie Mills: Well, you know I think there’s a lot of creativity in music today, and it’s young music, so it’s not necessarily music that’s going to last for decades from now. That’s why they sample a lot of the good music in their songs and talk about it, you know the artists that paved the way for them. I still think there is a lot of creativity in music. However, even the stars that may have been huge a year or two ago, today you don’t hear anyone talking about them. I call it fast food music, it’s going to be around for a minute, and then something else will come along. I don’t like to put music in categories, music is just music, but music with strong lyrics and true meaning and live music is what’s going to be around forever.
Soul Train: So Ms. Mills, are you working on new music? Can we expect an album soon?
Stephanie Mills: I am working on new music. I just formed a new band that’s in Charlotte, North Carolina. We’re currently in the writing stage.
Soul Train: Any plans to return to the theater?
Stephanie Mills: I would love to. I’ve been directing some plays in Philadelphia, but I would love to go on Broadway whether it’s taking a show or even doing my own one woman show. However, I have to make sure I have time to raise my 11 year old son, and I’m really a hands-on mom. I have to pick and choose when I can do things.
Soul Train: Do you watch reality television?
Stephanie Mills: Oh my goodness yes! (laughs) It amazes me that people can just put out their personal business like that. I think people are famous because of the drama of the reality shows, and I’m not judging, but they are famous for being foolish.
Soul Train: Do you think reality television is the way to go for artists that are trying to push their album sales or get their name out there?
Stephanie Mills: Absolutely not. I have been asked to do so many reality shows and I have turned them all down, because that’s not me. I have spent my whole career being private, because I think the only thing that I have to sell is my music and my songs and me as an entertainer. I would never ever do a reality show. Never. I don’t think that’s a way to get your name out there. I think people should just do their music, and do what you feel is good. I don’t think you have to sell out and buy into that.
Soul Train: Speaking of television, there was some backlash over your decision to not do TV One’s Unsung. Can you explain your reasoning as to why this type of show doesn’t interest you?
Stephanie Mills: I’m sorry that people want to see me on there, but no, I don’t want to do Unsung, it’s just like a reality show to me. They have asked me so many times, but I just don’t see that for me. If another artist wants to do that, that’s fine, but I would rather be known more for me doing my shows and my music. I love doing live performances, singing and recording records. I don’t think that I’m “unsung”; I still have a lot of life left in me. I just kind of beat to my own drum; I just do what I want to do. My story is really no different than anyone else’s, so in one way or another, my story has already been told.
Soul Train: With the loss of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston as well as others, people tend not to really appreciate an artist until it’s too late and they have passed away. With that being said, do you feel like your fans are showing their appreciation for you now?
Stephanie Mills: Oh absolutely! I get so much love from my fans! People on Twitter, some sending me letters, and it’s just amazing how much they show their love. Michael and Whitney both received a lot of love from their fans when they were alive. I think we take for granted that people will be here forever. You’re not promised even the next minute. What saddens me about the deaths of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston both is that they were both so tragic. It didn’t have to be, and they could still be around. They were in so much pain and dealing with whatever they had to deal with. I mean we all have things in our lives that we have to deal with, but they just couldn’t quite get it together. It’s a big thing once you pass away, but afterwards, it’s almost like people forget and they don’t care. Even with the anniversary of Michael’s death last month, I didn’t hear anyone mention it really, nothing was on television. Even with the passing of Sammy Davis, Jr., who I think is one of the greatest entertainers of all time, no one ever mentions him. It’s the same thing with Ray Charles. They all paved the way; Whitney and Michael, Sammy those are big shoes to fill, and you just have to respect them.
Soul Train: What would your advice be for people wanting to get into the entertainment industry?
Stephanie Mills: A young person trying to get into the business, I would tell them to take some acting classes, and write as much as you can. Just write what ever you are feeling whether its poetry, music or even what ever you see during the day. If you want to be a writer, you just write all the time, the title and melodies will come. If you continue to write and put things down it will come together, really just hone your craft.
Follow Stephanie Mills on Twitter @PrettyMill1.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, or her own site, www.themofochronicles.com. She’s also a special guest contributor on The Social Hour on Urban Soul Radio. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.