By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
After gaining global acclaim for playing Dorothy in The Wiz, which set the Broadway stage on fire, and producing some of the most memorable tunes in music, Stephanie Mills inexplicably remains under the radar, especially for someone with one of the best voices in history.
One may argue that she is the most undervalued and overlooked performer ever.
But Mills, 65, doesn’t care that the music industry still hasn’t given her those much-deserved flowers.
During a spirited one-on-one interview with the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s live morning show, Let It Be Known, she said, “If they don’t give me my flowers, I’m good with that.”
“Every time I walk up onto that stage, someone gives me flowers. Mills observed, “People come out, and they adore my show.”
In 2022, Mills performed in front of sold-out crowds across the United States as generations of fans have continued to devour the sonic treats she gives, especially when performing classics like “I Never Knew Love Like This Before,” “You’re Puttin’ A Rush on Me,” and “Home,” which, according to the majority of Black Twitter, no one besides Mills should sing.
Even when discussing such topics as Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and the inane Rolling Stone Magazine’s ranking of the “Greatest 200 Singers of All Time,” her genuineness shone through in every part of the chat.
When asked about the magazine’s most egregious oversight, Mills said, “Leaving Celine Dion and me off the list, and putting Michael Jackson at No. 86.”
According to Mills, “Why should we care at all?”
“Rolling Stone is meaningless,” she chides.
“With Michael Jackson (No. 86) so far down on the list, and neither Celine Dion nor myself on it, it’s meaningless,” Mills stated. “Willie Nelson is not a singer [yet he made Rolling Stone’s list at No. 54.”
She scoffed at the selection of Adele at No. 22.
“Adele has never finished a performance,” Mills decried.
“No way do I believe anything on the list. This is just a PR effort to get people talking. In my opinion, Rolling Stone is meaningless.”
Mills, who earned a Black Press of America Lifetime Legacy Award in 2022, said the music industry has continued to whitewash R&B.
“We can’t make it in the industry, because it doesn’t want us to,” she declared.
“They’re looking for Adele, Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, and Billie Eilish. I can sing the same song as Adele, and it still won’t get played. The music business is still very divided between what we call pop radio and R&B radio.”
She argued that it should come as no surprise that whitewashing persists.
Mills said, “I had a tremendous hit with ‘Never Knew Love Like This’ and they don’t play it. They always want us to grovel and plead for a place in their world, but we already have our own. Why the need to squabble over Rolling Stone? Obviously, the author of this piece is not musically literate and has no ability to sing.”
For artists like Jackson, Prince, Whitney Houston, and others who have been able to crossover, Mills said they suffered lots of stress and permanent damaged.
“Michael and Prince felt they needed to medicate themselves to get through their struggles, the stress that came with it and they are dead,” she said.
Don’t get it twisted, Mills isn’t throwing posthumous shade at any of those superstars.
She enjoyed a close and fond relationship with Jackson, and adored Prince, and Whitney Houston.
Mills elaborated, saying, “The issue is that the pop side earns so much more money than the R&B side, and that is by design to make you think [pop] is superior.”
“But there’s just as much money on the R&B side. We have to know how to tap into it,” she concluded.
Along with a phenomenal career, Mills also counts as an activist.
She’s quite vocal on social media about her support for Black people and her appreciation for Black culture.
Witnessing anti-Black sentiments from other African Americans bothers her, she said, noting that individuals like Kanye West have crossed the line.
As Mills put it, “some of us don’t want to be Black, but simply a pet,” referring to those Black individuals whom she said despise the color of their skin.
“They are embarrassing. They personify the aspiration to belong to and be accepted by the white majority,” she declared.
Revealing what she’d say to West if given the opportunity, Mills said she’d ask the hip-hop star, “Are you completely crazy? In other words, you have completely lost your way.”
Mills said she would add, “You came from a Black woman.”
“When we give in to the demands [white people] make of us, we bring destruction upon ourselves,” she remarked.
“Kanye has strayed so far from his core identity as a beautiful Black man that it has driven him insane.”
Mills isn’t buying the idea that West’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian is to blame for his epic fall.
“It’s not the Kardashians’ fault. They’re just being themselves,” she said.
“Kim didn’t force him to marry her. If you are crazy enough to go over there, you deserve whatever the backlash.”
She credited West with helping Kardashian and introducing her to “a world she might not have been in.”
“He took her to the next level in her life,” Mills said.
“But Kanye thought he was so loved and welcomed in that world that he could do anything. However, they have made it clear to him that ‘no,’ he is not welcome there. What we’re saying is, ‘No, we’re going to take everything from you.’”
Mills said it’s paramount that artists stand on their own and not allow corporations and music labels to control them.
“That’s why Dave Chappelle went ghost when they wanted him to put on a dress and stuff,” Mills offered. “He went away and came back on his terms.”
“We worry so much about losing what we don’t have. You will not miss out on what is intended for you. You can’t be a slave, and that’s exactly what Prince meant. To them, you’re like a little pet. They could care less.”
Mills was also moved to reach out to hip-hop star Megan Thee Stallion after producer Tory Lanez shot her in 2020.
Mills objected to the lack of encouragement Megan received.
“I love Megan Thee Stallion, and at no time, in no place, in my mind, could I ever go against a woman who has been physically attacked and shot by a guy,” Mills added.
“He intended to do her in completely. He aimed for her feet. She dances. That was deliberate. I called Meg to tell her she should ghost him. He is not on your side. You should never want to be associated with him. He should be in jail.”
With violence permeating the entertainment industry, specifically in hip-hop, Mills cautioned that performers can no longer engage in risky behavior and expect to survive in the modern environment.
“You need to always be aware of your environment,” she demanded.
“There’s no way [Migos star] Takeoff should have been out there at a dice game. You’re an entertainer.”
Takeoff, 28, whose real name was Kirshnik Khari Ball, was shot and killed in Houston in November 2022, after a fight broke out during a dice game.
Ball wasn’t the subject of the dispute.
“There are some people you simply can’t associate with,” Mills stated.
“No, I don’t have to visit the worst neighborhoods in Brooklyn to prove that I’m a true Brooklyn girl.”
In recent years, the infamous Karens – racist white women who obnoxiously confront people of color – have received lots of media attention.
Mills said she would not hesitate to reveal her inner Brooklyn girl if she’s ever confronted.
“It’s clear they know who to mess with,” Mills said. “I know she’ll remember me if I get a Karen. She will no longer identify as a Karen.”
Meanwhile, despite the hectic nature of 2022, Mills has a full agenda for 2023.
For an upcoming PBS television show celebrating Black Broadway, she recently went to Howard University for rehearsals and filming.
In addition to her busy touring schedule, she’s currently in Canada filming a movie for Lifetime that should debut early this year.
Mills also plans to pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with engagements in Atlanta this month on behalf of the King Foundation.
She and her super manager, Amp Harris, have a plan in place to guarantee that Mills will always receive her flowers.
“Amp allows me to focus solely on my performance.”
Mills was adamant that nothing could stand in the way of she and Harris’ plans, which include movies, theater, and a busy touring schedule.
“I feel like I’m getting my flowers in the form of the movie, the PBS special, and my shows,” Mills said.