Mills was born in Brooklyn, New York City. As a child, she sang gospel music at Brooklyn's Cornerstone Baptist Church, and began her career at age 9, appearing in the Broadway musical Maggie Flynn. After winning Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater six weeks straight at age 11, she went on to become the opening act for the Isley Brothers.
In 1973, Mills 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 produce a hit, and she left the label in 1976.
Mills's career took a rise when she portrayed Dorothy in the Broadway musical The Wiz, an African-American adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Her song "Home" from the show would become her signature tune for years, and would be covered later by Diana Ross for the movie adaptation three years later.
Commercial success in the music industry remained elusive until 1979, when she signed to the 20th Century Fox Records label. There, Mills found her niche in mainly 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's first gold record and the first major hit for the James Mtume-Reggie Lucas production team.
She quickly followed the success with 1980's Sweet Sensation, which featured Mills's hit "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. dance chart and #8 on the R&B chart. On May 24, 1984, Mills returned to theater to star in a short-lived touring revival of The Wiz. The production closed on June 3, after 13 performances and 7 previews.
In 1985, Mills's 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's 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.
In 1993, she once again starred in the role of Dorothy in "The Wiz". This revival was also short lived, closing after 28 performances.
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.
In 1997, Mills played 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.
In 2015, Mills was cast as Aunt Em in the NBC live musical production of The Wiz, forty years after her initial Broadway run in the show.
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.
In 1993, Mills married a third time to Charlotte, North Carolina radio program manager Michael Saunders. Minister Louis Farrakhan officiated the wedding ceremony. The couple divorced sometime later.
Mills has a son with Down Syndrome.Movin' in the Right Direction – 1975
For the First Time – 1975
What Cha' Gonna Do with My Lovin' – 1979
Sweet Sensation – 1980
Stephanie – 1981
Tantalizingly Hot – 1982
Love Has Lifted Me – 1975 Released in 1982
Merciless – 1983
I've Got the Cure – 1984
Stephanie Mills – 1985
If I Were Your Woman – 1987
Home – 1989
Christmas – 1991
Something Real – 1992
Personal Inspirations – 1994
Born for This! – 2004
Yesterday - 2010
Still Stephanie- Pending
Maggie Flynn (1968)
The Wiz (1975–78; 1984; 1993)
Harlem Suite (1988)
Stephanie Mills Comes Home to Broadway' (1989)
Children of Eden (1997)
Funny Girl (2002) (Actors Fund benefit concert)
1974 – nominated for Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress – Musical ("The Wiz").
1979 – nominated for American Music Award: Favorite Female Artist – Soul / Rhythm & Blues.
1980 – won Grammy Award: Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance – Female ("Never Knew Love Like This Before").
1980 – nominated for an American Music Award: Favorite Female Artist – Soul / Rhythm & Blues
1980 – nominated for Young Artist Awards: Best Young Musical Recording Artist – Female ("Two Hearts").
1981 – nominated for a Grammy Award: Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance – Female (Stephanie).
1981 – won American Music Award for Favorite Female Artist – Soul / Rhythm & Blues
1983 – nominated for a Grammy Award: Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance – Female ("Merciless").
1989 – nominated for American Music Award: Favorite Female Artist – Soul / Rhythm & Blues