Clay Cane is a New York City-based writer who is recognized for his contributions in journalism. Clay is a regular contributor for various print and online publications such as The Advocate and BET.com. He is the author of the highly anticipated novel Ball-Shaped World, which is a fictionalized account of the black and Latino ballroom scene. Also, he is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and a member of New York Film Critics Online. He can be reached at claycane@gmail.com.


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    Thursday, July 10, 2008

    If you are reading this and haven't heard of Stephanie Mills, quickly go to iTunes and download this woman's greatest hits. She has one of the best R&B catalogues of all time. I think if she would've put on a cheesy wig, had some boys flipping behind her in a random pop video, her career would've been as big as Whitney Houston.

    The eighties was the last decade where vocals mattered in R&B. It was all about the pipes and if you couldn't hit those notes, you couldn't hit R&B radio. For Brooklyn native, Stephanie Mills, she had the pipes from the start. By her teens she won Apollo Theater's amateur night a record six times, opened for the Isley Brothers, and signed to Motown Records. However, it was her 1975 role on Broadway, at only 16 years-old, as Dorothy in The Wiz that made her a star. Originally, Mills was signed to star in the film version, but a 33 year-old Diana Ross snatched the role from the teen. Mills didn't let it get her down, especially since The Wiz was a critical and box office failure—but still a classic in the black community.

    Stephanie racked up some hits on the disco scene, locking in a gay following with going from Broadway to the clubs. Stephanie once said, "I get along better with gay men than regular females. When I go out to the discos, most of the men I hang out with are gay. I relate to them better; they are more open about a lot of things.”

    In 1979 came her first Gold record with Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin', which hit the top 40 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Throughout her career she would garner three more albums in the top 40. All of her albums in the '80's would chart at least in the top 12 of the R&B charts, with four hitting the top five and 1987's, her biggest hit, If I Were Your Woman, landing at #1.

    It's tough to go down memory lane with Stephanie Mills because there are so many of her songs that I love. I will give it at try...

    All the years of loneliness came crashing down on me..." Damn, that’s some good R&B lyrics! “Comfort of a Man” was from 1989’s Home and the song went to #8 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1990. The song is classic Stephanie—heartbreaking yet romantic at the same time. By the way, the way the man in the video is withering on the bed—he looks like he wants and needs the comfort of a man too!


    ***

    Fast forward to 3:40 to see this dynamic performance of Stephanie Mills performing her #1 R&B hit "I Feel Good All Over" at the Apollo. She devastates the song, the crowd is losing their mind and Stephanie is enjoying every moment -- it's all about that note at 7:55. This song is one of my faves and on heavy rotation on my iPod. Quick fact - "I Deel Good All Over" is a song that Patti LaBelle passed on... I love Miss Patti, but for some reason I don't think this song would've worked for her.

    ***

    Please watch this clip in full! I've posted this before, but I think this is one of the best live performances on YouTube. "Home" was Stephanie Mills fifth and final #1 on the R&B charts in 1989 (didn't even chart on the Billboard Hot 100). Ironically, "Home" was a song that would start her career and would be her last big hit ("Comfort of a Man" was the second single from the Home album, as I mentioned above). Catch how she walks and holds the note at 3:52!

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    Posted by Clay :: 9:45 AM :: 14 comments

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