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Biography of Madonna

Name: Madonna
Bith Date: August 16, 1958
Death Date:
Place of Birth: Bay City, Michigan, United States
Nationality: American
Gender: Female
Occupations: entertainer, singer, dancer

Singer and dancer Madonna (Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, born 1958) is a master marketer and sensational self-promoter who propelled herself to stardom, dominating pop charts, concert halls, film, and music video. She has been called "an outrageous blend of Little Orphan Annie, Margaret Thatcher, and Mae West," and "narcissistic, brazen, comic ... the Goddess of the Nineties."

Born in August 1958, Madonna Ciccone was the third child of six in a Catholic family living in Bay City, Michigan. Her father, Tony, a design engineer for Chrysler/General Dynamics, was a conservative, devout Roman Catholic and a first-generation Italian American. Madonna's mother and namesake was of French-Canadian descent. She died of breast cancer when Madonna was five years old.

Tony Ciccone moved the family to Pontiac, Michigan, and married one of the women hired to care for the Ciccone household. The adjustment was difficult for Madonna as the eldest daughter. She had considered herself the "lady of the house" and had received much of her father's affection and attention.

In her younger school years Madonna acted in school plays. As she entered adolescence, Madonna discovered her love and talent for dancing, an activity she pursued under the direction and leadership of Christopher Flynn, her private ballet instructor. Dedicated and disciplined, Madonna worked hard, but played hard as well, something Flynn made easy by introducing her to the disco nightlife of downtown Detroit.

Despite the glamour and sophistication she developed with Flynn, who was more than 20 years older than she, neither Madonna's extracurricular activities nor her father's disapproval kept her from caring for her younger siblings and working hard in school. She graduated early from high school with mostly "A's" and was awarded a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan. She stayed two years before going to New York City in 1978 with $37 and a wealth of determination and ambition.

An apartment in an East Village tenement building surrounded by crime and drugs was the place from which she began her steady and focused climb to superstardom. Her first jobs included figure modeling for artists and acting in low budget movies. She danced briefly with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, studied for a time with Pearl Lang of the Martha Graham Dance group, and went to Paris as a short-lived singer/dancer with French disco artist Patrick Hernandez.

Talent, Determination, and Unbridled Ambition

Before she left for Paris, Madonna had developed a fascination with the music field. It started with rock and roll, playing drums and singing backup in several small bands. When she returned to New York she spent a lot of time writing songs, making demonstration tapes, and hanging out in such popular lower-Manhattan nightclubs as the Roxy and Danceteria. It was a simple, four-track demo called "Everybody" that earned Madonna a recording contract with Sire Records in October 1982.

The album Madonna sold few copies when it was first released in July 1983. However, repeated club performances and radio air-play of several cuts from the album eventually earned her three huge hits with "Holiday," "Lucky Star," and "Borderline." A flurry of chart-busting hits, videos, concert tours, and films followed. She seemed to have a Midas-like quality with most everything she did. Even a brief singing performance in a largely forgettable film, Vision Quest, resulted in the top-five love ballad "Crazy for You."

Her second album, Like a Virgin, released in late 1984, produced two number one hits--the title track and "Material Girl." Madonna was becoming an accomplished songwriter; she had written five of the songs herself. During the spring of 1985 she embarked on her first concert tour, which was so successful that she had to switch to larger venues as the tour progressed. On the heels of Like a Virgin came the detective/ comedy film Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985 (directed by Susan Seidelman and co-starring Madonna and Rosanna Arquette), which spawned another popular single and video, "In the Groove."

The tour had thousands of teenage girls all over the country tying lace bows on top of their heads, wearing underwear as outerwear, and walking the halls of schools and shopping malls as "Madonna wannabees." Madonna had become an icon as much as a singer to her fans.

Controversial Behavior Shared Center Stage

Madonna was married briefly to actor Sean Penn from August 1985 to early 1989; it was a marriage with many well chronicled ups and downs. In 1986 she released her third album, True Blue, from which three singles topped the charts: "Papa Don't Preach," about a pregnant teen who wants to keep her child; the title track, a light "girl loves boy" tune; and "Live to Tell," a soulful ballad from the soundtrack of At Close Range starring Sean Penn. In 1987 a movie starring Madonna called Who's That Girl was largely ignored, unlike the accompanying soundtrack and concert tour.

The release of Like A Prayer coincided with the breakup of her marriage, and included a fare-thee-well written by Madonna entitled "Till Death Do Us Part." However, it was the video of the title song portraying Madonna's confession to a priest followed by engaging in sexually suggestive behavior with him that caused a stir in the Catholic Church. The controversy resulted in a disagreement over a $5 million endorsement contract with the Pepsi company. Controversy again surrounded Madonna in 1990 when she was banned from MTV before 11 p.m. with the sexually explicit video "Justify My Love," a new track from her greatest hits album The Immaculate Collection.

Other films featuring Madonna include Shanghai Surprise (1986), in which she co-starred with then-husband Sean Penn; Dick Tracy (1989), the film that launched her short-lived affair with Warren Beatty and also was accompanied by a Madonna-sung soundtrack; and Truth or Dare, her own feature-length video/documentary compiled of footage from her Blonde Ambition Tour of 1990-1991. Madonna also appeared in Penny Marshall's A League of Their Own (1992); and she co-starred with Willem Dafoe in Body of Evidence (1993). Each work contained some form of "out-there" sexuality that titillated her fans, and kept the press and critics focused on her.

Created and Cashed In on Era of Voyeurism

By 1992 Madonna had established herself as a worldwide entertainer and a sharp, confident business woman. In April of that year she signed a $60 million contract with Time-Warner, which included a multi-media package with her own record company (under the Maverick label), HBO specials, videos, films, books, merchandise, and more than six albums.

The announcement of the seven-year deal was timed with the combined release of the album Erotica, an extended video, and a coffee table picture book called Sex. The book can only be purchased by adults and comes in a Mylar, vacuum-sealed cover. It has scores of black and white photographs by fashion photographer Steven Meisel. Madonna appears mostly without clothes in compromising positions with everything from men and women (in all combinations, positions, and numbers) to chairs, dogs, and slices of pizza. She was even shown hitch-hiking in Miami wearing nothing but high heels. The book was a sellout across the country.

A perfect example of the paradox represented by the serious and the playful Madonna all in one, Sex was published at the same time as The Madonna Connection, a series of scholarly essays by academics who had been tracking the phenomenon of the Material Girl for several years.

Madonna's career evolved with phases and images distinct and carefully planned. There was her lacy underwear, big hair, and black jewelry phase (her self-described "chubby" phase, as she referred to it in an MTV anniversary program); then the 1940s and 1950s sultry, sleek glamour phase reminiscent of Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe; the lean dancer; the businesswoman; and the unashamed, uninhibited sex goddess. Each phase seemed to be accompanied by a different lover, including Chicago Bulls' bad boy Dennis Rodman in the spring of 1994.

Madonna Reincarnated

Part of Madonna's genius was to recognize when the mood of her audience changed. In the late 1994 release of Bedtime Stories, written primarily by Madonna, a new image emerged projecting a softer eroticism and more soulful sound. By the mid-1990s she seemed more intent on establishing herself as a serious artist than making headlines with yet another boyfriend. She set her sights on playing the leading role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's movie musical Evita, and after repeated auditions convinced producers that she would bring a unique understanding to the portrayal of Eva Peron. Like Eva Peron, Madonna was a strong, willful woman who mesmerized her followers and also felt misunderstood by her critics.

Madonna was in the midst of personal as well as professional change. In her personal life, she settled into a relationship with Carlos Leon, a personal trainer. Meanwhile, in 1995, she accepted an industry award for Most Fashionable Artist as well as VH1's Viewer's Choice award for Most Fashionable Artist, and in December of 1996, Billboard magazine's Artist Achievement Award. In 1995, Madonna released her second greatest hits album, Something to Remember, an album of ballads. It featured three new tracks, including Marvin Gaye's "I Want You," recorded with British trip-hop group Massive Attack.

A New Propriety

Her determination to play the starring role in Evita paid off. While the film--and her performance--received mixed reviews, no one could take away her dedication, hard work, or box office success. In January 1997 Madonna was nominated for and won the Best Actress Award at the 54th Annual Golden Globe Award Ceremony. Later that spring, the song "You Must Love Me" from Evita won the Academy Award for Best Song. The film's premiere in late 1995 was upstaged in October when Madonna gave birth to a girl named Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon (Lola for short). Madonna described the event to People magazine as, "the greatest miracle of my life." She even traded in her pink Hollywood mansion for a home in a low-key suburb of Los Angeles. The child was her daughter with Leon.

In 1998, Madonna released Ray of Light; for the album, she collaborated with producer William Orbit for many of the tracks. It was filled with somber songs of deep introspection and was a blend of techno and pop. The album reflected her study of the kabbalah (an ancient Jewish doctrine) and interest in Far East Indian culture. It kept Madonna in touch with contemporary dance culture, proving to doubters that she still knew how to stay a few steps ahead of the pack. The album received rave reviews and was one of her best-selling records. That same year, the video for the title track won MTV Video Music Awards for video of the year, female video, choreography in a video, and best direction (shared with director Jonas Akerlund). The album also won Grammy Awards for best dance recording, best pop album, and best music video (short form).

That next year, Madonna contributed the single "Beautiful Stranger" to the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack. The single won an MTV Video Music Award for best video from a film and a Grammy Award for best song written for a motion picture, television or other visual media (shared with Orbit), both in 1999.

Madonna co-starred in the film The Next Best Thing with her real-life friend, Rupert Everett, in 2000. In the movie, Everett plays Robert, a gay landscaper who gets drunk and accidently fathers a son with his single pal, Abbie (Madonna). They raise the child together until Abbie gets engaged to a businessman; an ugly custody battle ensues. While the film did not get fantastic reviews, the soundtrack did moderately well. Containing two new Madonna songs, "American Pie" (a remake of the Don McLean classic) and "Time Stood Still," the album also featured tracks by artists such as Moby, Beth Orton, Christina Aguilera, and Groove Armada. It was Madonna's first record in which she was the executive producer.

On August 11, 2000, Madonna gave birth to a baby boy named Rocco. The child was her son with British film director Guy Ritchie. Shortly after that event, on September 19, 2000, Madonna released Music. Working with a handful of producers, mainly the French producer Mirwais Ahmadzai (who worked on six of the ten tracks), but also Orbit, Guy Sigsworth, and Mark "Spike" Stent, the album carried on the electronica element she introduced in Ray of Light. Receiving mostly good reviews, the album was "filled with vocoders, stylish neo-electro beats, dalliances with trip-hop, and, occasionally, eerie synthesized atmospherics," according to Stephen Thomas Erlewine at All Music Guide's website.

On December 21, 2000, Madonna and Richie had their son baptized in a 13th-century cathedral in Dornoch, Scotland. Guests included actress Gwyneth Paltrow and pop star Sting. After the baby's godmother, Trudie Styler, read the "Lorica" hymn, her husband, Sting, sang "Ave Maria." Rocco's godfather is Guy Oseary of Maverick Records.

The next day, Madonna and Ritchie were married at Scotland's 19th-century Skibo Castle. Designer Stella McCartney was maid of honor. They were wed by Church of Scotland vicar Susan Brown, who was dubbed "Holy Spice" for her modern attitude. The nine-part wedding ceremony featured vows the couple had helped write. Madonna wore a strapless silk ivory gown, designed by McCartney, which featured a fitted corset bodice and a long train. Her antique veil was topped by an Edwardian diamond tiara loaned by Asprey & Garrard of London. She also wore pearl and diamond bracelets (courtesy of Adler of London) and a 37-carat, 2 1/2-inch diamond cross necklace, which was designed by the House of Harry Winston in New York. Her daughter, Lourdes, was the flower girl and wore a long ivory dress with short sleeves and a high neck, which was designed by McCartney. Ritchie wore a teal blazer, a Hunting Mackintosh plaid kilt of navy and green, and antique diamond cufflinks (a wedding gift from his bride-to-be). Their four-month-old son, in a matching kilt, sat nearby in the arms of a nanny. Guests at the wedding included Paltrow, Sting, Everett, and designer Donatella Versace.

The Material Girl turned serious actress, singer, song writer and mom appeared to have it all in 2001. She accepted it all--including the stress of living a fish-bowl existence--with characteristic calm, as if she were planning the next phase. She told Time magazine, "I never wish I had a different life. I am lucky to be in the position of power that I am in and to be intelligent.... It's not my nature to just kick back."

True to her word, she did anything but "kick back." Instead she collected her family and embarked on a 48-stop Drowned World Tour throughout much of 2001, playing to sellout audiences and grossing an estimated $2 million per performance.

Further Reading

  • For a retrospective look at Madonna's career through interviews, critical essays, and reviews, see The Madonna Companion: Two Decades of Commentary (1999). Most of the published information on Madonna is found in newspapers and magazines. See New York Daily News (May 31, 1985); People (May 13, 1985); The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul (1989); USA Today (April 21, 1992); New Yorker (October 26, 1992); New York Times Book Review (October 25, 1992); Newsweek (November 2, 1992); Nation (December 14, 1992); Entertainment Weekly (April 15, 1994; September 22, 1995); Esquire (August, 1994); People (April 29, 1996; October 28, 1996; December 30, 1996); Billboard (November 16, 1996; December 16, 1995); New York Times (March 24, 1997); and Forbes (September 23, 1996).

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