b. Michael Lee Stokes, 1955, Palmer Woods, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.
Michael Stokes is a highly talented producer and songwriter.
Based in Los Angeles, Michael has worked consistently as a producer through the 70's and '80's with artists including Creative Source ('Creative Source', 1973, and 'Pass The Feeling On', 1975), Morning, Noon And Night ('Morning, Noon & Night', 1977), Shirley Caesar ('From The Heart', 1978), Keith Barrow ('Physical Attraction', 1978, including 'You Know You Want To Be Loved'), Ronn Matlock ('Love City', 1978), Nature's Divine ('In The Beginning', 1979), Booker T. Jones ('I Want You', 1981), Rose Royce ('Love Me Right Now', 1984), Gerald Mallory ('Lay It Down On Me', 1982), Active Force ('Give Me Your Love', 1983), Sherrick ('Just Call', 1987) and Smokey Robinson.
His wife is Linda Stokes, a member of the group Magic Lady for whom Michael has produced their three albums.
In the late Eighties, the man's efforts were concentrated outside the commercial music business.
Since leaving A & M a few years earlier (where he was A & R Director) Michael got involved in Nancy Reagan's anti-drug campaign and took a more overtly political role in his capacity as a Director of the U.S arm of Amnesty International.
Michael hails from the, well-to-do, Palmer Woods district of Detroit.
He never knew his biological father, tragically murdered while visiting the hospital in which Michael was being born, but his mother's ownership of a chain of restaurants ensured a certain amount of financial security.
Michael told the U.K. Voices From The Shadows magazine back in 1988: 'I didn't understand a lot about what other people said of ghetto life and racial tension, I just never encountered it. I went to the white schools, I lived in a Jewish neighbourhood and people weren't black and white to me. It was only, my later education that opened my eyes to what was really going down. I decided my music was the best way I could give people something to alleviate their suffering in whatever small degree.'
His first break came at the age of 13.
'My mom owned the restaurant right across the street from SCEPTOR Records in New York and all the record guys would come over, sit around and talk music. It was a part of my life. Then one day, Marvin Schlachter came in and I told him I was working on some songs. He fobbed me off for a couple of weeks, but then he decided to listen and he thought my things were very good. He gave me a job writing songs up at the company and our relationship has lasted until this day'.
Soon Michael produced bit first record on Juggy Murray Jones on Fury Records.
Thereafter Michael left the family home and moved back to Detroit where, for a period in the middle to late Sixties, he worked for Eddie Kendricks EJK Records (Eddie James Kendricks).
By 1970, it was back to New York.
Michael said 'I met Clarence Avant and that's where the success story started. I was still only 15 and so convincing him that the tapes I had In my pocket were really all my own work wasn't easy at first! But soom I was writing and producing acts like Bill Withers, Creative Source, The Soul Searchers, Faith, Hope & Charity, Dennis Coffey for Sussex'
Things didn't go as planned and Michael outlines what went wrong:
'Bad management. If you do anything where demand is bigger than supply, you gotta hand over management or you're gonna lose it all. Sussex couldn't keep a Bill Withers out on the street. The whole BUDDAH system, to which they were affiliated, fell apart and I had to move.'
Michael moved to Roadshow Records where, with Tash Howard, he created an outlet over which he had more control.
Brass Construction, BT Express, Shirley Caesar, and Enchantment were soon on the chart, bringing in the dollars, but after another couple of years of outstanding success, Michael once again moved on to form INFINITY Records, where he hit with Nature's Divine and Active Force.
'It's funny, 'cos every company I went with seemed to close! The whole point though was that I had my best success letting other people run the business. We had some great records coming out of the studio but I guess greed acts in in the end. It was a part of why Sussex and Roadshow folded.'
From Infinity, Michael took over as A & R head at A & M Records where, amongst other things, he signed Janet Jackson, produced Herb Alpert, put Atlantic Starr together with James Carmichael and generally continued to impress.
The period taught him about the politics of the industry and, coupled to his brother's death from drug addiction, finally persuaded him that a spell away from the sharp end was required.
During the late Eighties, MS International had a number of acts preparing first product for release through Motown.
They included the aforementioned Enchantment and Adrina, Byron Mitchell, Puff and Friends of Distinction.
Michael Stokes's sister, Patricia was married to Eddie Kendricks and they have a son called Paris.
Michael has, additionally worked with Color Me Bad '(I Want To Sex You Up' LP, Rick James, Brian McKnight, BBD, Keith Sweat, Vanessa Williams, Mavis Staples, (all of these albums were recorded at Creative Source). Morris Day, Marvin Gaye, Rockwell, DeBarge and Faith, Hope and Charity.
Here is an updated bio from Michael himself:
The beautiful irony of Michael Stokes’ artistic mission is that while author Sir Thomas More coined the term “Utopia” in the 1550s (from the Latin word meaning “nowhere”) as a dream island where all people thrived under perfect legal, social and political systems, Stokes – a prolific record producer, keyboardist, composer, arranger and engineer - has made it his life’s work to create a glorious “somewhere” that renders artistic paradise possible, dreams realities and the world a better place. For over five decades, he’s built upon accomplishing these ideals through the universal languages of music, art and imagination.
From humble roots in Detroit’s Palmer Woods district to the sizzling hot studios of Southern California, Michael Stokes has amassed a stunning resume’ of credits that includes work with stellar artists and personalities such as Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince, Bill Withers, Shirley Caesar, Smokey Robinson, Herb Alpert, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner, Donna Summer, Mavis Staples, Solomon Burke, Booker T. Jones, Patti Labelle, Rick James, Deniece Williams, Merry Clayton, Morris Day, Tim Reid (“Frank’s Place”), Arnold Schwarzenegger and Former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Stokes (partnered with Kerry Gordy) also holds the distinction of being the first executive to sign a then-unprecedented 7 acts from his Utopia Productions Company to a deal with one company: Motown Records. He played varying critical roles in the development of artists that include Enchantment, DeBarge, Vanessa Williams, Brian McKnight, LTD, Atlantic Starr, Miki Howard, Bell Biv DeVoe (BBD), Color Me Badd, Louis Price, Jesse Powell, Nature’s Divine, Magic Lady, Rockwell and Sherrick. And the mark of his longevity is evident in his classic music thriving in the present via samples by LL Cool J and Rick Ross, and award-winning covers by Lloyd and Anthony David & Algebra Blessett.
Michael Stokes Utopia Enterprise is an artist development and entertainment company (very much inspired by Berry Gordy’s Motown) that is a self-contained launching pad for the best of the best of tomorrow’s superstars as well as the seasoned greats of the present. Under one metaphorical roof, Utopia is where songwriting, artist grooming, set design, wardrobe, film and video shoots, recording, cover art and marketing are all expertly addressed for a stringently selected core group of today’s most deserving talents. What began in the late `60s as a scintillating music business alternative has stretched ever skyward into a corporation duty-bound to identify, develop and launch creative artists in all fields around the globe. The key primary emphasis is on education.
“Through the majority of my time in the business, music was a happy place,” Michael shares. “Songs were about striving, dancing, messages and romance. Somehow, it all became so dark…derogatory statements about women, profanity. At Utopia, we intend to retrain young minds with solid education and preparation - providing real skills and knowledge and proper imaging so that tomorrow’s young artists will be inspired to represent higher consciousness, cleaner lyrical themes, stronger music and more well-rounded concepts. We aim to put them on paths to be nothing less than the best.”
Michael Stokes can make good on such lofty goals and promises because he benefitted from working closely with some of the most powerful, forward thinking visionaries in the business, absorbing and inheriting their insights and intuitions.
Naturally gifted as a keyboardist, Michael started in the `70s at indie record companies such as Golden World, Ric-Tic, Groovesville and Sussex under creative and business masters such as Don Davis, Al Bell and Clarence Avant. By the early `80s he made a move to Hollywood-based Motown where – with Iris Gordy and Ray Singleton – he co-founded Super Three Productions which yielded DeBarge (“All This Love”) and Rockwell (“Somebody’s Watching Me” f/ Michael Jackson). Since that time via his three Utopia Studios locations in studio city, Los Angeles and Woodland Hills, Stokes has collaborated with and overseen hundreds of hit records through the Urban Adult, New Jack Swing and Hip Hop scenes – amassing a discography of over 300 credits.
Today, Stokes’ focus is bringing to bear all the fruits of his success, experience and knowledge to Utopia as it ascends to its greatest glory – that of a scholastic champion for the superstars of tomorrow. “The world needs to be more educated,” Stokes concludes. “I and Utopia Enterprises are aligning our thought patterns alongside those of the Oprah Winfreys, Cathy Hughes and Steve Harveys of the world – to inspire the next generation to believe they can be the creators of whatever is destined to replace the iPhone 6 or to even become the next President of the United States. Our motto is, ‘You don’t have to know your purpose to live on purpose.’ If we all set our goals with a higher purpose in mind, mankind will always be on a righteous and unstoppable path.”
Thanks to Ronn Matlock for his help, regarding information, on this page.
Linda Stokes website is http://www.lsodesigns.com
Here are some images of Michael's 2006 recording studio: