Madonna - Biography

By Scott Feemster


It's hard to imagine the world without Madonna. She has been an entertainer, influence and star since the early 1980's, and has been one of history's most successful pop stars, as well as a lightning rod for controversy throughout her career. She has put out numerous successful album, starred in films, published books, run a record company, and still has found time to be a mother and wife. Whether one admires or dislikes Madonna, it is hard to argue that she has had an immense effect on the modern entertainment industry as a whole.


            Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was born in Bay City, Michigan on August 16, 1958, and was raised in the nearby suburbs of Detroit, Pontiac and Rochester Hills. Born the daughter of a father who was a first-generation Italian American and automobile design engineer and a mother who was a homemaker of French-Canadian background, Madonna was raised in a staunchly Catholic household with her five siblings; brothers Martin, Christopher, and Anthony, and sisters Melanie and Paula Mae. The Ciccone family suffered the loss of their mother, also named Madonna Louise, when young Madonna was just five years old. After her mother's death, Madonna's father Silvio, (nicknamed “Tony”), married the family's housekeeper Joan Gustafson, and she and Tony Ciccone had two more children of their own, Jennifer and Mario. Young Madonna never really accepted or got along with her step-mother, and as a refuge of sorts, she convinced her father to let her take ballet classes. Madonna continued dancing all through high school, where she was a straight-A student and was also a member of the cheerleading squad. After graduating from high school, she was accepted on a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan, and studied there until 1977, when her ballet teacher convinced her she should try to make a go of a dance career and should move to New York City to pursue it.


            Once in New York, Madonna had little in the way of contacts or support, and had to scrape by for quite some time working menial jobs and finding part-time work with modern dance companies. She finally scored a job as a dancer with the French disco artist Patrick Hernandez, (of “Born To Be Alive” fame), and while on tour with Hernandez, she struck up a relationship with one of the musicians, Dan Gilroy. When the pair returned from the tour, Gilroy taught Madonna how to play some guitar and drums, and the two formed the band the Breakfast Club around themselves. At first Madonna was the drummer, but after a while she emerged as the singer. After her relationship with Gilroy ended, she formed another band called Emmy with her new boyfriend Stephen Bray. Neither the band nor their relationship lasted for very long, but Bray helped Madonna to write and produce some dance songs. After playing some of the songs at New York area dance clubs and getting a positive response, disc jockey and record producer Mark Kamins took Madonna under his wing and brought her into contact with Sire Records founder Seymour Stein. In 1982, Madonna signed a singles deal with Sire, which was distributed and owned by Warner Brothers Records. Her first release for the label, the single “Everybody”, became an almost instant smash hit in both the clubs and on the dance music charts, and she followed it up with two more hit dance singles, “Physical Attraction” and “Holiday”. Her singles were such a hit, that the label gave the go-ahead for Madonna to record a full album. Her self-titled debut was released in September of 1983, and “Holiday” became her first single to reach the Top 40 soon after. Her next single off of the album, “Borderline”, became her first Top Ten single in March of 1984, and it started a run of an astonishing 17 consecutive Top Ten hits. Madonna's visual image of punk-rock thrift store chic crossed with frilly ballet-inspired skirts and bodices accesorized  with tons of religious-themed necklaces and bracelets influenced an entire generation of young women, and in the first couple of years of Madonna's stardom, it seemed she, and her fashion followers, were everywhere you looked.  In 1984, fresh off of record and magazine covers, she was tapped for her first starring role in a feature film, Susan Seidelman's Desperately Seeking Susan. To capitalize on the avalanche of publicity and popularity that surrounded her, she got to work on completing a follow-up album to her debut. Like A Virgin (Sire) was released at the end of 1984, and the title single stayed at #1 on the U.S. charts for six weeks. The album also went to #1 on the album charts, and went on to sell 12 million copies worldwide. 1985 was the year when Madonna went from being a star to an international superstar. Like A Virgin was a hit all over the world, driven, in part, by provocatively sexy and stylish videos for the title song and second single “Material Girl”. Desperately Seeking Susan also became a hit, (as well as the single introduced in the movie, “Into The Groove”), and Madonna embarked on her first concert tour with the Beastie Boys as her opening act. Madonna appeared at the Live Aid event that year, as well. She had also become romantically involved with the up-and-coming gifted actor Sean Penn, and the two were married later in the year. (The two had a stormy marriage that lasted until their divorce in 1989). Beyond the controversy of just being named Madonna and having an attitude of forward sexuality, Madonna also stirred up more controversy when some nude black & white photos of her that were taken when she first arrived in New York were published by the major men's magazines in 1985. Initially she took legal steps to try to prevent the photos from appearing, but once they did appear, she refused to apologize for posing for them and took an attitude that she didn't care if people were offended by them or not. 


            Madonna has always been adept at using publicity, whether good or bad, to help promote whatever project she is working on at the time, and she used all of the attention paid to her during 1985 to lead into her next album release, True Blue (Sire)(1986). The album was another huge success and spawned no less than 5 Top Ten singles, including the title track, the ballad “Live To Tell”, “Papa Don't Preach”, “La Isla Bonita”, and “Open Your Heart”. She also starred in the film Shanghai Surprise with her husband Sean Penn, and co-starred again with him in a theatrical production of the David Rabe play Goose and Tom-Tom. Madonna kept up a busy and ambitious schedule, and continued into the next year starring in the romantic comedy Who's That Girl and contributing four songs to the soundtrack, including the singles “Causing A Commotion” and the title track. Madonna toured around the world again on her Who's That Girl tour, taking her into the next year.  Sire also released the remix collection You Can Dance in 1987. Madonna kept busy appearing in a David Mamet play, and readied her next album for release. Like A Prayer (Sire) was released in 1989, and it is considered one of the most ambitious of her career. Not only did Madonna (however briefly) dye her hair dark, but she also freely exploited and attacked religious imagery. Many of the songs on the album were stylistically more diverse than her previous albums, and she received greater critical praise for her work than she had before. Like A Prayer became another #1 record, and went on to spawn three Top Ten singles, “Express Yourself”, “Cherish”, and “Like A Prayer”. She followed up Like A Prayer with a co-starring role with then-current love interest Warren Beatty in the film adaptation of the comic strip Dick Tracy, starring as the femme fatal “Breathless” Mahoney. She released the album I'm Breathless (Warner Bros.)(1990) the same year, featuring songs from the film mixed with others influenced by the film's setting in the 1930's. I'm Breathless featured the singles “Vogue” and “Hanky Panky”. Almost immediately after finishing promotion for the movie, she embarked on another world concert tour, this one called the Blond Ambition Tour. Because of provocative imagery and choreography used during the concert, Madonna once again raised the ire of religious conservatives, especially the Catholic Church. Later in 1990, Madonna released her first greatest hits collection, The Immaculate Collection (Warner Bros.). which featured two new singles, “Rescue Me” and “Justify My Love”. Both songs became Top Ten singles, and Madonna again courted controversy with the video for “Justify My Love”, which featured her cavorting with both males and females in staged scenes of mock bondage and sadomasochism. The video was considered so hot, it was banned from MTV for being too sexually explicit. 1991 saw the release of a documentary film about her Blonde Ambition tour and personal life, titled Truth Or Dare (Warner Bros.). Madonna also appeared in the film A League Of Their Own, playing an Italian-American baseball player in the all-female leagues that were started during wartime in the 1940's. The film's theme song, “This Used To Be My Playground”, became another #1 hit for Madonna in 1991.


            Now with an impressive string of hit albums, singles, and films, Madonna decided to found her own entertainment company, Maverick, in association with Warner Brothers, that would consist of record, film, book publishing, music publishing, television and merchandising arms. The label would release her products as well as sign other acts she was interested in supporting. Madonna received a 20% royalty rate from all profits from the venture. The first project through Maverick was the book Sex, a sexually provocative set of photographs of Madonna and various other models and celebrities in various simulated sexual situations. The book caused a media firestorm and sold an amazing 500,000 copies. Madonna, ever the savvy promoter, used the controversy to lead into her next album Erotica (Maverick/Warner Bros.)(1992). Though the title track, and first single off of the album, reached as high as #3 on the singles chart, the rest of the singles and the album itself didn't sell as well as Madonna's previous efforts. Madonna followed the album up with starring appearances in two films, Body Of Evidence, and Dangerous Game. Madonna was widely panned for her performance in Body Of Evidence, but received some good notices for Dangerous Game, though it was released straight to video. (Dangerous Game was also one of the first theatrical productions handled through Maverick). Towards the end of 1993, Madonna launched another worldwide tour, this one called The Girlie Show Tour, and it managed to kick up more controversy stemming from Madonna's on-stage persona of a dominatrix at one point in the show. In 1994, Madonna started dating controversial rapper Tupac Shakur, and the two saw each other off and on for the next year or so. It seemed Madonna couldn't make herself more controversial, and she seemed to realize that a step back from her image as an enfante terrible was in order. Though her next album was called Bedtime Stories (Maverick/Warner Bros.)(1994), it was a more subdued record than was Erotica, and it produced four successful singles, “Secret”, “Take A Bow”, “Human Nature” and “Bedtime Story”. Madonna followed Bedtime Stories up with a collection of her ballads called Something To Remember (Maverick/Warner Bros.)(1995), which featured two new singles, “You'll See”, and a cover of the Marvin Gaye classic “I Want You”. Madonna resurrected her standing as an actress the next year by appearing in the film version of the epic musical Evita, playing the title character of Argentina's Eva Peron. Madonna received generally positive reviews for her portrayal of Peron, and one of the songs she sings in the film, “You Must Love Me”, won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song From A Motion Picture. Madonna also won another Golden Globe that same year for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. Madonna also became a mother for the first time in 1996, giving birth to her daughter Lourdes. The father was her trainer and one-time boyfriend Carlos Leon.


            It seemed Madonna had inched her way back to some respectability in the eyes of the mainstream, so it made sense that she would change course again and try to surprise her fans once again. Embracing the rising tide of electronic dance music that was popular at the time, Madonna released the 1998 album Ray Of Light (Maverick/Warner Bros.), an album that was one of her most adventurous records and by far the most electronic-based. She had two Top Ten singles off of the album, “Ray Of Light” and “Frozen”, and the album went on to win three Grammy awards, including Best Short Form Music Video for the high concept video for the title track. In 1999, she contributed the  psychedelic-tinged dance song “Beautiful Stranger” to the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack, and the track climbed as high as #19 on the American singles chart. Madonna starred in another movie in 2000, the romantic comedy The Next Best Thing, and contributed two songs to the soundtrack, including her hit version of the Don McLean classic “American Pie”. Also during 1999, Madonna was introduced to English film director Guy Ritchie, and the two went on to be married in 2000 and had a son together, named Rocco, the same year. Soon after, she released another dance-music intensive record, titled simply Music (Maverick/Warner Bros.)(2000). Music was another commercial and critical hit, and spawned three successful singles on the charts and on the dancefloor; “What It Feels Like For A Girl”, “Don't Tell Me” and “Music”. The next year, Madonna returned to the road with her first tour since 1993. Called the Drowned World Tour, the tour was a huge success and was one of the biggest concert draws of that year. She released a DVD of performances from the tour (Drowned World Tour 2001) and her second collection of hits, called GHV2 (Maverick/Warner Bros.). Unlike her previous greatest hits collection, GHV2 did not include any new tracks. 


            Madonna starred in the 2002 movie Swept Away, directed by her husband Guy Ritchie, and the movie was widely panned and had a very short run in theaters. She also contributed the theme song to the then-current James Bond film Die Another Day, and scored a moderate hit with it. Now living in England with her husband and family, Madonna had a different perspective on her homeland, and expressed it in her 2003 album American Life (Maverick/Warner Bros.). The album was widely panned by critics and failed to sell well, (by Madonna's standards), and became the lowest selling album of her career. Madonna appeared later on in 2003 on the MTV Video Awards singing along with Missy Elliot, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera, and her on-stage kiss with Aguilera and Spears returned Madonna to a figure of controversy and curiosity. She later released a remix EP, Remixed & Revisited (Maverick/Warner Bros.)(2003) collecting recent songs and putting them through remix treatments. In 2004, Maverick and Madonna sued Maverick's parent company Warner Music Group for mishandling resources and poor bookkeeping that reportedly lost Maverick millions of dollars. Warner Music Group counter-sued Maverick, and the dispute was settled when Madonna and a partner sold their share of Maverick's stock to Warner, making the company a wholly owned subsidiary company of Warner Music Group. Madonna signed a separate contract with Warner Brothers for her next few albums. Madonna launched another tour in 2004, called her Re-Invention World Tour, and it went on to be the most financially successful tour of 2004. She also participated in the Tsunami Aid concert in 2005 to raise funds for victims of the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, as well as appearing at Live 8 that same year in London. Later in 2005, Madonna released her next album, the '70's and '80's disco-influenced Confessions On A Dance Floor (Warner Bros.). Hailing it as a return to her dance music roots, the album received positive critical praise and produced 4 top-selling singles; “Jump”, “Hung Up”, “Sorry”, and “Get Together”. Madonna followed the success of the album up with another world tour, called the Confessions Tour. The tour was another huge success, and also managed to kick up a fair share of controversy because of Madonna's (by now routine) use of religious imagery.


            Madonna's life and career have gone through more changes just since 2006. In 2006, she and her husband adopted a young Malawian boy named David Banda. There was some controversy because the way the adoption was handled wasn't up to the Malawian codes, but the details were later ironed out and many people applauded Madonna and Guy Ritchie for taking a child out of desperate poverty to be raised as part of their family. In 2007, Madonna announced that after one more album and a greatest hits collection, she would leave long-time label home Warner Brothers to sign as the founding recording artist for the Live Nation Artist label, set up by mammoth concert promoter Live Nation. She also directed her first film, Filth And Wisdom, filmed in 2007 and released in 2008, and produced and wrote a documentary, I Am Because We Are, which deals with the plight faced by Malawians. Never one to sit down for long, Madonna released another album, Hard Candy (Warner Bros.) in 2008, and followed it up with another extensive tour called the Hard Candy Promo Tour. The first single from the album, “4 Minutes”, was Madonna's 37th single to reach the Billboard Top 100 chart, a feat that surpassed even Elvis Presley and established a new record. Though the album has initially sold very well, debuting at #1 on the album charts in both the U.S. and U.K., it has received some critical bashing. She embarked on another world tour later on in 2008, this one called the Sticky & Sweet Tour. Madonna was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in a ceremony in early 2008. Madonna also announced in late 2008 that she and husband Guy Ritchie are getting divorced, with the papers being finalized sometime in early 2009. Madonna, now more that ever, can truly be called the Queen of Pop.

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