Madonna Louise Ciccone was born in Bay City, Michigan, on August 16, 1958. Her father, Silvio Anthony Ciccone, is a first-generation Italian American (with roots in Pacentro, Italy), while her mother, Madonna Louise (née Fortin), was of French Canadian descent. Her father later worked as a design engineer for Chrysler and General Motors. As Madonna had the same name as her mother, family members called her “Little Nonni”. The third of six children from her father’s first marriage, her full-blood siblings are: Martin, Anthony, Paula, Christopher, and Melanie. Madonna was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. Upon receiving confirmation, she adopted Veronica as an additional confirmation name. She was raised in the Detroit suburbs of Pontiac and Avon Township (now part of Rochester Hills).
Her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 30, in 1963. Months before her mother’s death, Madonna noticed changes in her behavior and personality, although she did not understand the reason. Mrs. Ciccone, at a loss to explain her medical condition, would often begin to cry when questioned by Madonna. Madonna later acknowledged that she had not grasped the concept of her mother dying. Madonna Ciccone as a junior in high school, 1975.
Madonna turned to her grandmother in the hope of finding some solace and some form of her mother in her. The Ciccone siblings resented housekeepers and invariably rebelled against anyone brought into their home ostensibly to take the place of their beloved mother. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Madonna commented that she saw herself in her youth as a “lonely girl who was searching for something. I wasn’t rebellious in a certain way. I cared about being good at something. I didn’t shave my underarms and I didn’t wear make-up like normal girls do. But I studied and I got good grades … I wanted to be somebody.” Terrified that her father could be taken from her as well, Madonna could often not sleep unless she was near him.
Her father married the family’s housekeeper Joan Gustafson in 1966, and they had two children: Jennifer and Mario Ciccone. At this point, Madonna began to express unresolved feelings of anger towards her father that lasted for decades, and developed a rebellious attitude. She attended St. Frederick’s and St. Andrew’s Catholic Elementary Schools, and then West Middle School. She was known for her high grade point average, and achieved notoriety for her unconventional behavior: she would perform cartwheels and handstands in the hallways between classes, dangle by her knees from the monkey bars during recess, and pull up her skirt during class—all so that the boys could see her underwear.
Madonna later attended Rochester Adams High School where she became a straight-A student and a member of the cheerleading squad. After graduating, she received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan. She convinced her father to allow her to take ballet lessons and was persuaded by Christopher Flynn, her ballet teacher, to pursue a career in dance. In 1978, she dropped out of college and relocated to New York City. She had little money and worked as a waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts and with modern dance troupes. Madonna said of her move to New York, “It was the first time I’d ever taken a plane, the first time I’d ever gotten a taxi cab.
I came here with $35 in my pocket. It was the bravest thing I’d ever done.” She started to work as a backup dancer for other established artists. During a late night, Madonna was returning from a rehearsal, when she was dragged up an alleyway by a pair of men at knifepoint and forced to perform fellatio at knifepoint. Madonna had later commented that “the episode was a taste of my weakness, it showed me that I still could not save myself in spite of all the strong-girl show.
I could never forget it.” While performing as a dancer for the French disco artist Patrick Hernandez on his 1979 world tour, Madonna became romantically involved with musician Dan Gilroy. Together, they formed her first rock band, the Breakfast Club, for which Madonna sang and played drums and guitar. In 1980 or 1981 she left Breakfast Club and, with her former boyfriend Stephen Bray as drummer, formed the band Emmy. Their music impressed DJ and record producer Mark Kamins who arranged a meeting between Madonna and Sire Records founder Seymour Stein. 1982–85: Madonna, Like a Virgin and marriage to Sean Penn
After Madonna signed a singles deal with Sire, her debut single, “Everybody”, was released on April 24, 1982, and became a dance hit. In February 1984, according to the film director Sir Richard Attenborough, she auditioned at the Royale Theatre on Broadway for a dance role in his movie version of A Chorus Line using her birth-name of Ciccone. He rejected her. At about the same time, she started developing her debut album, Madonna, which was primarily produced by Reggie Lucas, a Warner Bros. producer.
However, she was not happy with the completed tracks and disagreed with Lucas’ production techniques, so decided to seek additional help. Madonna moved in with boyfriend John “Jellybean” Benitez, asking his help for finishing the album’s production. Benitez remixed most of the tracks and produced “Holiday”, which was her third single. The overall sound of Madonna is dissonant, and is in the form of upbeat synthetic disco, utilizing some of the new technology of the time, like the Linn drum machine, Moog bass and the OB-X synthesizer. The album peaked at number eight on the Billboard 200, and yielded the hit singles “Holiday”, “Borderline” and “Lucky Star”.
“I was surprised by how people reacted to “Like a Virgin” because when I did that song, to me, I was singing about how something made me feel a certain way—brand-new and fresh—and everyone interpreted it as ‘I don’t want to be a virgin anymore. Fuck my brains out!’ That’s not what I sang at all. ‘Like a Virgin’ was always absolutely ambiguous.” —Madonna on the backlash for “Like a Virgin”
Madonna’s look and manner of dressing, her performances, and her music videos influenced young girls and women and her style became one of the female fashion trends of the 1980s. It was created by stylist and jewelry designer Maripol and the look consisted of lace tops, skirts over capri pants, fishnet stockings, jewelry bearing the crucifix, bracelets, and bleached hair. Madonna achieved global recognition after the release of her second studio album: Like a Virgin in 1984. It topped the charts in several countries and became her first number one album on the Billboard 200.
The title track, “Like a Virgin”, topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six consecutive weeks. It attracted the attention of organizations who complained that the song and its accompanying video promoted premarital sex and undermined family values, and moralists sought to have the song and video banned. Madonna came under further fire when she performed the song at the first MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) where she appeared on stage atop a giant wedding cake, wearing a wedding dress and white gloves. The performance is noted by MTV as an iconic performance in VMA history. In later years, Madonna commented that she was actually terrified of the performance. Like a Virgin was certified diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America and sold more than 21 million copies worldwide. Madonna married actor Sean Penn (above) on her birthday in 1985.
Madonna entered mainstream films in 1985, beginning with a brief appearance as a club singer in Vision Quest, a romantic drama film. Its soundtrack contained her U.S. number-one single, “Crazy for You”. She also appeared in the comedy Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), a film which introduced the song “Into the Groove”, her first number one single in the United Kingdom. Although not the lead actress for the film, her profile was such that the movie widely became seen (and marketed) as a Madonna vehicle. The New York Times film critic Vincent Canby named it one of the ten best films of 1985.
While filming the music video for the second single from Like a Virgin — “Material Girl” — Madonna started dating actor Sean Penn and married him on her birthday in 1985. Beginning in April 1985, Madonna embarked on her first concert tour in North America, The Virgin Tour, with the Beastie Boys as her opening act. where she progressed from playing CBGB and the Mudd Club to playing sporting arenas. In July, Penthouse and Playboy magazines published a number of nude photos of Madonna, taken in New York in 1978. She had posed for the photographs as she needed money at the time, and was paid as little as $25 a session.
The publication of the photos caused a media uproar, but Madonna remained defiant and unapologetic.” The photographs were ultimately sold for up to $100,000. She referred to the whole experience at the 1985 outdoor Live Aid charity concert saying that she would not take her jacket off because “[the media] might hold it against me ten years from now.” 1986–91: True Blue, Like a Prayer and the Blond Ambition Tour The image of a young blond woman. She is wearing a salmon corset. Her hair is short and curly. She has bright red lips and appears to be singing to the audience on her left while looking down.
Madonna performing on the Blond Ambition World Tour
In June 1986, Madonna released her third studio album, True Blue, which was inspired by and dedicated to Sean Penn. Rolling Stone magazine was generally impressed with the effort, writing that the album “sound[s] as if it comes from the heart”. It spawned three number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100: “Live to Tell”, “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Open Your Heart”, and two more top-five singles: “True Blue” and “La Isla Bonita”. The album topped the charts in over 28 countries worldwide, an unprecedented achievement at the time. She also starred in the critically panned film Shanghai Surprise for which she was awarded the Golden Raspberry Award for “worst actress”. She made her theatrical debut in a production of David Rabe’s Goose and Tom-Tom, both co-starring Penn.
The next year, Madonna’s second feature film, Who’s That Girl, was released. She contributed four songs to its soundtrack, including the title track and “Causing a Commotion”. In July 1987, she embarked on the Who’s That Girl World Tour which continued until September. The tour was inspired by Madonna’s belief that, with the help of people, she could turn herself into something else. It broke several attendance records, including over 130,000 audience in a concert in Paris, which remains her biggest concert attendance ever. Later that year, she released a remix album of past hits, entitled You Can Dance, which reached 14 on the Billboard 200. After an annulment in December 1987, Madonna filed for divorce from Penn in January 1989 citing irreconcilable differences.
“In Like a Prayer I’ve been dealing with more specific issues that mean a lot to me. They’re about an assimilation of experiences I’ve had in my life and in relationships. They’re about my mother, my father and my bonds with my family about the pain of dying, or growing up and letting go. [The album] was a real coming-of-age record for me emotionally … I had to do a lot of soul-searching and I think it is a reflection of that.” —Madonna talking about the inspiration behind Like a Prayer.
In January 1989, Madonna signed an endorsement deal with soft-drink manufacturer, Pepsi. In one of her Pepsi commercials, she debuted her song “Like a Prayer”. The corresponding music video featured many Catholic symbols such as stigmata and cross burning, and a dream about making love to a saint, leading the Vatican to condemn the video. Religious groups sought to ban the commercial and boycott Pepsi products. Pepsi revoked the commercial and canceled her sponsorship contract.
The song was included on Madonna’s fourth studio album, Like a Prayer, which was co-written and co-produced by Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray. Rolling Stone wrote that it was “as close to art as pop music gets”. Like a Prayer peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold 13 million copies worldwide, with 4 million copies sold in the U.S. alone. Six singles were released from the album, including “Like a Prayer”, which reached number one, and “Express Yourself” and “Cherish”, both peaking at number two. By the end of the 1980s, Madonna was named as the “Artist of the Decade” by MTV, Billboard and Musician magazine.
Madonna starred as “Breathless” Mahoney in the film Dick Tracy (1990), with Warren Beatty playing the title role. To accompany the film, she released the soundtrack album, I’m Breathless, which included songs inspired by the film’s 1930s setting. It also featured the U.S. number-one hit, “Vogue”, and “Sooner or Later”, which earned songwriter Stephen Sondheim an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1991. While shooting the film, Madonna began a relationship with Beatty which dissolved by the end of 1990. In April 1990 she began her Blond Ambition World Tour, which was held until August. Rolling Stone called it an “elaborately choreographed, sexually provocative extravaganza” and proclaimed it “the best tour of 1990”.
The tour was met with strong reaction from religious groups for her performance of “Like a Virgin”, during which two male dancers caressed her body before she simulated masturbation. The Church of England and the Catholic Church criticized her performance and the Pope asked the general public and the Christian community not to attend the concert. A private association of Catholics calling themselves Famiglia Domani also boycotted the tour for its eroticism. In response, Madonna said, “The tour in no way hurts anybody’s sentiments. It’s for open minds and gets them to see sexuality in a different way. Their own and others”.” The Laserdisc release of the tour won Madonna a Grammy Award in 1992 for Best Long Form Music Video.
The Immaculate Collection, Madonna’s first greatest-hits compilation album, was released in November 1990. It included two new songs, “Justify My Love” and “Rescue Me”. The album was certified diamond by RIAA and sold over 30 million copies worldwide, becoming the best-selling compilation album by a solo artist in history. “Justify My Love” reached number one in the U.S. and top ten worldwide. Its music video featured scenes of sadomasochism, bondage, same-sex kissing and brief nudity. The video was deemed too sexually explicit for MTV and was banned from the network. Madonna responded to the banning: “Why is it that people are willing to go and watch a movie about someone getting blown to bits for no reason at all, and nobody wants to see two girls kissing and two men snuggling?” The second single, “Rescue Me”, became the highest-debuting single by a female artist in Hot 100 chart history at that time, entering at number 15 and peaking at number nine.
In December 1990, Madonna decided to leave Jennifer Lynch’s film, Boxing Helena, which she had previously agreed to star in, without any explanation to the producers. Around this time, Madonna had an eight-month relationship with rapper Vanilla Ice; he ended their relationship because of Madonna’s Sex book. Her first documentary film Truth or Dare (known as In Bed with Madonna outside North America) was released in mid-1991. The documentary chronicled her Blond Ambition World Tour. 1992–97: Maverick, Sex, Erotica, Bedtime Stories and Evita Image of a blond female facing her left. She has short blonde hair and is wearing a green bra and purple pants with beads on the waist. She’s singing to a microphone, which she holds to her mouth with her left arm.
Madonna performing during The Girlie Show World Tour
In 1992, Madonna had a role in A League of Their Own as Mae Mordabito, a baseball player on an all-women’s team. She recorded the film’s theme song, “This Used to Be My Playground”, which became a Hot 100 number one hit. The same year, she founded her own entertainment company, Maverick, consisting of a record company (Maverick Records), a film production company (Maverick Films), and associated music publishing, television broadcasting, book publishing and merchandising divisions. The deal was a joint venture with Time Warner and paid Madonna an advance of $60 million. It gave her 20% royalties from the music proceedings, one of the highest rates in the industry, equaled at that time only by Michael Jackson’s royalty rate established a year earlier with Sony. The first release from the venture was Madonna’s book, entitled Sex. It consisted of sexually provocative and explicit images, photographed by Steven Meisel.
The book caused strong negative reaction from the media and the general public, but sold 1.5 million copies at $50 each in a matter of days. At the same time she released her fifth studio album, Erotica, which debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. Its title track peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100. Erotica also produced five further singles: “Deeper and Deeper”, “Bad Girl”, “Fever”, “Rain” and “Bye Bye Baby”. The provocative imagery continued in the 1990s with the erotic thriller, Body of Evidence, a film which contained scenes of sadomasochism and bondage.
It was poorly received by critics. She also starred in the film Dangerous Game, which was released straight to video in North America. The New York Times described the film as “angry and painful, and the pain feels real.” In September 1993, she embarked on The Girlie Show World Tour, in which she dressed as a whip-cracking dominatrix surrounded by topless dancers. The show faced negative reaction, specifically in Puerto Rico where she rubbed the island’s flag between her legs on stage. In March 1994, she appeared as a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman, using profanity that was required to be censored on television and handing Letterman a pair of her underwear and asking him to smell it. The releases of her sexually explicit films, albums and book, and the aggressive appearance on Letterman all made critics question Madonna as a sexual renegade. She faced strong negative publicity from critics and fans, who commented that “she had gone too far” and that her career was over.
According to biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, the ballad “I’ll Remember” (1994), was an attempt to tone down her provocative image. The song was recorded for Alek Keshishian’s film With Honors. She made a subdued appearance with Letterman at an awards show and appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno after realizing that she needed to change her musical direction in order to sustain her popularity. With her sixth studio album, Bedtime Stories (1994), Madonna employed a softer image to try to improve the public perception of her. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 and produced four singles, including “Secret” and “Take a Bow”, the latter topping the Hot 100 for seven weeks, the longest period of any Madonna single. At the same time, she became romantically involved with fitness trainer Carlos Leon.
Something to Remember, a collection of ballads, was released in November 1995. The album featured three new songs: “You’ll See”, “One More Chance”, and a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”. A picture of Evita, former first lady of Argentina. Her hair is drawn into a tight bun at the back. She is wearing a black, low-cut dress. Around her neck is a number of chains. The lady’s hands are folded in her front and she has a white fur shawl around her. Madonna’s portrayal of Eva Perón (above) in the film Evita garnered her critical acclaim.
The following year saw the release of Evita in which she played the title role of Eva Perón. For a long time, Madonna had desired to play Perón and even wrote to director Alan Parker, explaining how she would be perfect for the part. She stated, “This is the role I was born to play. I put everything of me into this because it was much more than a role in a movie. It was exhilarating and intimidating at the same time…And I am prouder of Evita than anything else I have done.” After securing it, she underwent vocal training and learned about the history of Argentina and Perón. During shooting she fell sick many times due to the intense emotional effort required.
Evita was a period drama and almost 6,000 costumes were needed for the scenes, a Guinness World Record for the most costume changes in a film. After its release, the film garnered critical appreciation. Zach Conner from Time magazine commented “It’s a relief to say that Evita is pretty damn fine, well cast and handsomely visualized. Madonna once again confounds our expectations. She plays Evita with a poignant weariness and has more than just a bit of star quality. Love or hate Madonna-Eva, she is a magnet for all eyes.” Madonna won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for the role.
She released three singles from the Evita soundtrack album including “You Must Love Me” (which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1997) and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”. On October 14, 1996, Madonna gave birth to Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon, her daughter with Leon. 1998–2002: Ray of Light, Music, Drowned World Tour and marriage to Guy Ritchie A blond woman sitting on a block of hay. She is playing a guitar and singing in front of a standing microphone. She has short hair and wears grey colored cowboy clothes. Madonna performing on the Drowned World Tour
After Lourdes’ birth, Madonna became involved in Eastern mysticism and Kabbalah. She was introduced to Jewish mysticism by actress Sandra Bernhard in 1997. Her seventh studio album, Ray of Light, (1998) reflected this change in her perception and image. The album garnered critical acclaim and Slant Magazine declared it as “one of the great pop masterpieces of the ’90s”. Ray of Light was honored with four Grammy Awards, and listed as one of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. Topping the charts in Australia, Canada, UK and mainland Europe, the album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200—held off from the top spot by the soundtrack to the film Titanic—and sold 16 million copies worldwide.
The album’s first single, “Frozen”, became Madonna’s first single to debut at number one in the UK, while in the U.S. it became her sixth number-two single and set another record for Madonna as the artist with the most number two hits. The song was banned in Belgium, however, adjudicated to be plagiarized from Belgian songwriter Salvatore Acquaviva’s 1993 song “Ma Vie Fout L’camp”. The second single, “Ray of Light”, debuted at number five on the Billboard Hot 100. Madonna’s relationship with Leon ended in December 1998; she declared that they were “better off as best friends.”
Following their break-up, Madonna signed to play a violin teacher in the film Music of the Heart but left the project, citing “creative differences” with director Wes Craven. She followed Ray of Light with the single “Beautiful Stranger”, recorded for the 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. It reached number 19 on the Hot 100 solely on radio airplay and earned Madonna a Grammy Award for “Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media”.
In 2000, Madonna starred in the film, The Next Best Thing, and contributed two songs to the film’s soundtrack: “Time Stood Still” and the international hit “American Pie”, a cover version of Don McLean’s 1971 song. She released her eighth studio album, Music, in September 2000. It featured elements from the electronica-inspired Ray of Light era, and catered to her gay audience. Collaborating with French producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï, Madonna commented: “I love to work with the weirdos that no one knows about—the people who have raw talent and who are making music unlike anyone else out there. Music is the future of sound.” Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic felt that “Music blows by in a kaleidoscopic rush of color, technique, style and substance.
It has so many depth and layers that it’s easily as self-aware and earnest as Ray of Light.” The album took the number-one position in more than 20 countries worldwide and sold four million copies in the first ten days. In the U.S., Music debuted at the top, and became her first number-one album in eleven years since Like a Prayer. It produced three singles: the Hot 100 number one “Music”, “Don’t Tell Me” and “What It Feels Like for a Girl”. The music video of “What It Feels Like for a Girl” depicted Madonna committing acts of crime and vandalism, and was banned by MTV and VH1.
Around the same time as the release of the Music album, Madonna began a relationship with Guy Ritchie, a film director she had met in 1999 through mutual friends Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler. On August 11, 2000, she gave birth to their son, Rocco Ritchie. In December, Madonna and Ritchie were married in a ceremony in Scotland.
Her fifth concert tour, entitled Drowned World Tour, started in April 2001. The tour visited cities in the U.S. and Europe and was the highest-grossing concert tour of the year by a solo artist, earning $75 million from 47 sold-out shows. She also released her second greatest-hits collection, entitled GHV2, to coincide with the home video release of the tour. GHV2 debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200.
Madonna starred in the film Swept Away, directed by Ritchie. Released direct-to-video in the UK, the film was a commercial and critical failure. In May 2002 she appeared in London in the West End play Up For Grabs at the Wyndhams Theatre (billed as ‘Madonna Ritchie’), to universally bad reviews and was described as “the evening’s biggest disappointment” by one. Later that year, she released “Die Another Day”, the title song of the James Bond film Die Another Day, in which she had a cameo role, described by The Guardian film reviewer as “incredibly wooden”. The song reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for both a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and a Golden Raspberry for Worst Song.
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