Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone (b. August 16, 1958) was born in Bay City, Michigan to an Italian-American Chrysler engineer, Silvio Ciccone, and his French-Canadian wife, Madonna Fortin. She was raised in a Catholic family of six children in the Detroit suburbs of Pontiac and Rochester Hills.
Her mother died of breast cancer at the age of thirty, when Madonna was only five. The singer has frequently discussed the enormous impact her mother’s death had on her life and career. Following his wife’s death, Silvio brought in a housekeeper, Joan Gustafson. He later married her and had two more children.
Silvio required all of his children to take music lessons. After a few months of piano lessons, Madonna convinced her father to allow her to take ballet classes instead, and she proved to be a gifted dancer.
After graduating from Rochester Adams High School in 1976, Madonna received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan. At the encouragement of her ballet teacher, Christopher Flynn, Madonna left college after only one semester and moved to New York City to pursue a dance career. She studied with modern dance legend Martha Graham, as well as a Graham disciple, Pearl Lange. Madonna later performed with several modern dance companies, including Alvin Ailey and the Walter Nicks dancers.
After performing as a dancer for French disco star Patrick Hernandez on his 1979 world tour, Madonna abandoned her fledgling dance career to pursue music. She formed several bands, including Breakfast Club and Emmy. She also wrote a number of songs that brought her local fame in New York dance clubs, particularly Danceteria.
In 1982 the singer inked a deal with Sire Records. Her demo song, “Ain’t No Big Deal”, was written by her frequent collaborator, Stephen Bray, but was shelved for several years because it had recently been recorded and released by the Epic Records group Barracuda. Five years later, Madonna’s version surfaced on the B-side of the “True Blue” single, though it has never appeared on one of her albums.
During the sessions for her first album, Madonna recorded a song called “Sidewalk Talk”. However, after listening to the finished product, she and her producers decided that its sound was too dated. They shelved the track and replaced it with a more current-sounding song called “Holiday”. (It soon became a hit, and stands today as an iconic 1980’s dance song. “Sidewalk Talk” would later be used as a B-side for a single release.)
Madonna’s first bona-fide hit was “Everybody”, produced by Mark Kamins. It gained heavy rotation on R&B radio stations, leading many to assume that Madonna was a black artist. When “Everybody” was released as a single, Madonna’s picture did not appear on the album sleeve, because Sire did not want to risk losing the black audience (Madonna’s core audience at that point) by advertising that Madonna was white.
In 1983 her self-titled first album, Madonna, was released, and its first single, “Holiday”, was a hit single in several countries. Other hits on Madonna included “Borderline” and “Lucky Star”. Although the album sold only moderately at first, thanks to heavy rotation on a brand new cable channel called MTV, Madonna gained nationwide exposure and the album peaked at number eight on the Billboard chart, and went platinum five times.
MTV aggressively marketed Madonna’s image as a playful and sexy combination of punk and pop culture, and she soon became a fixture on the network. Her bleached blonde hair, sexy lace gloves, lingerie on the outside and “Boy Toy” belt buckle became popular in malls and schoolyards across America. In many ways, she defined pop fashion of the era.
In 1984 Madonna released Like a Virgin. The album, produced by the legendary Nile Rodgers, had a distinctive soul and funk flavor, with hard, loud drums and plenty of bass guitar, yet remained pop-friendly and accessible. The title track topped the U.S. charts for six weeks and is believed to be first time in music history that the word “virgin” appeared in a Top 40 song.
The record spawned three other hits, all of which went to Billboard’s Top Five: “Angel” (number five), “Dress You Up” (number five), and what was to become her signature song, “Material Girl” (number two). Since this album's release, Madonna has often been referred to as the “Material Girl”.
Like a Virgin was the first time Madonna used what became a continuing career strategy: a change of image. Where Madonna had been mostly synthesizers and dance beats, featuring a “street urchin” version of the singer, the image projected in Like a Virgin was lacy and sensual, with Madonna portraying Lolita-like sexual decadence.
The wild success of the release led Madonna to Hollywood. In 1985, she made a brief appearance in the film Vision Quest playing a club singer, with the song she performed, “Crazy for You”, becoming her second number-one hit. It garnered her the first of many first Grammy nominations, and the song’s video, combining clips from the movie with Madonna singing, was in heavy rotation on MTV for months.
In 1985, Madonna launched her first full-scale live performance tour, called “The Virgin Tour”. Every stop on the tour sold out; tickets for the opening night performance in Seattle were gone in thirty-three minutes.
Madonna released her third album, True Blue, in 1986. The album was co-produced by Patrick Leonard and Madonna’s longtime friend Stephen Bray. It included the hits, “Open Your Heart”, “True Blue”, “Live to Tell”, “La Isla Bonita”, and “Papa Don’t Preach”. True Blue was described by Rolling Stone as her “blue collar album”, while other critics felt the songs were reminiscent of the 1950s. With this album, Madonna also changed her look to a more 1950s feel. Her new style consisted of short bleached hair, plain white t-shirts, leather jackets, and tapered pants.
Madonna portrayed a variety of characters in the music videos that accompanied the True Blue album. In the video for “Open Your Heart”, Madonna played a stripper who befriends a young boy. In “La Isla Bonita”, she played a Spanish woman, which was one of the first indications of Madonna’s fondness for the Hispanic culture. There are two versions of the video for the song, “True Blue”. In the U.S., Madonna collaborated with MTV in an amateur video-making contest wherein viewers submitted their own home-made music videos for the song. One amateur video was chosen by Madonna and MTV to be designated as the official music video for the song, “True Blue”, in the United States. The MTV Make My Video contest winners were Angel Gracia and Cliff Guest. In Europe, however, Madonna starred in her own music video for the song.
In 1989, Madonna released the album Like a Prayer. The album released four singles, including top ten hits “Like a Prayer”, “Express Yourself”, “Cherish”, and “Keep It Together”. Prayer is often cited by critics as the best album of her career.
To mark the release of Like a Prayer, Madonna changed her image once again. Her previously short platinum coif was restyled into a long mane of wavy brown hair. Some critics said that Madonna was taking on a hippie look from the 1960s.
I'm Breathless: Music from and Inspired by the Film 'Dick Tracy' spawned the huge number-one hit, “Vogue”, which popularized a dance trend in which people struck poses like fashion models in magazines (such as Vogue, hence the term “vogue-ing”). Widely considered one of her best songs, its video, also directed by David Fincher, was named the number-two video of all time by MTV, second only to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. There has been a misconception that “Vogue” was written, recorded for and used in the film, when in fact it was not (it was originally intended as a B-side, but was put on the album at the last minute because the song fit the album’s concept). Curiously, the song was used in a television trailer promoting the film, which spawned this misconception. Another top ten single inspired by, but not used in, the film was “Hanky Panky”. The album, however, did contain four songs that actually were in the film: “Sooner or Later” (which won an Oscar for “Best Original Song”), “What Can You Lose?”, “More” (the song that's actually heard at the end of the film), and “Now I’m Following You” (a duet with co-star Warren Beatty but in a version different from what was heard in the film). I'm Breathless is one of actually three original soundtracks that were released around the time of the film.
She also released her first greatest hits album, The Immaculate Collection, towards the end of 1990. She included fifteen of her biggest hits and two new songs, both top-ten hits: “Rescue Me”, which reached number nine, and “Justify My Love”, co-written by Lenny Kravitz, which stayed at number one for four weeks.
In 1992, Madonna appeared in the Penny Marshall film, A League of Their Own, which revolved around a women’s baseball team. She wrote and performed the film’s theme song; the number-one hit, “This Used to Be My Playground”. Its music video featured film clips, and the song became a huge adult contemporary music hit and Madonna’s tenth Hot 100 number-one single.
Madonna released her next album, Erotica, in 1992. She co-wrote and produced this record mostly with the legendary Shep Pettibone. It featured bold sexual anthems that made no attempt to disguise their star’s appetite for erotic fantasy and role-playing. The album spawned a number of top ten hits, including “Erotica” (which became the highest-debuting (number three) single in the history of the Hot 100 Airplay Chart) and “Deeper and Deeper”, which stalled at number seven. Outside of America “Fever” and “Bye Bye Baby” were also hits, while domestically, “Rain” stalled at number fourteen and “Bad Girl” went on to achieve modest chart success, entering the top forty.
Madonna’s release of Bedtime Stories (1994) took her back to her R&B roots. Other top ten hits included “Bedtime Story”, penned by singer Björk, and “Take a Bow”, penned by singer Babyface, who also sang vocals. “Take a Bow” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks, breaking her previous record of six weeks with “Like a Virgin”, and would later assist her in her winning the lead role in Evita. The album was nominated for a Grammy in the same year, and Madonna sang “Take a Bow” at the American Music Awards. The success of the album belied its uncertain origins. It spawned several Unreleased Madonna songs, co-written with Shep Pettibone in 1994, that were shelved as Madonna changed creative gears. One throwaway song entitled “Love Won’t Wait” was later sent to Gary Barlow to record. He took his version of the song to number one in the UK in 1997, earning Madonna yet another co-writing credit on a number one hit.
At the time it was made in 1995, “Bedtime Story”, which cost over two million dollars, was the most expensive music video in history. Madonna only held this record for a few months; Michael Jackson’s “Scream” video – which cost seven million dollars – broke it later that year.
Madonna released a second greatest hits album in 1996, this time collecting a number of ballads under the title, Something to Remember. She began to wear fashionable designer dresses and softened her (by now medium length) hair to honey blonde. This may have helped her to secure the coveted role of Eva Perón in the 1996 film adaptation of Evita. The film marked the first time that Madonna was heralded as an actress in a leading role. She delivered a Golden Globe winning performance and was critically praised. Her detractors still managed to point out the similarities between the character (a former actress and fame-hungry politician’s wife) and Madonna's own life.
The Evita soundtrack went on to become Madonna’s twelfth platinum album, thanks to the singles, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “You Must Love Me”, the latter receiving an Oscar for best original song in a film. While “You Must Love Me” was a moderate hit on radio and MTV, it was actually a dance remix of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” that cemented the soundtrack’s mainstream pop success. The remix became a worldwide top ten hit in early 1997, and helped “Argentina” to peak at number eight on the Hot 100.
In 1998, she released Ray of Light, an album co-produced by European techno music performer, William Orbit. The release was Madonna’s first critically-acclaimed recording since “Like a Prayer”; her biggest hit in nearly ten years, selling more than fifteen million copies worldwide. It spawned the top-ten singles “Frozen”, “Ray of Light”, “Drowned World/Substitute for Love”, “Nothing Really Matters” and “The Power of Good-Bye”.
Her vocals were notably stronger, likely an after effect of the vocal training, she received for Evita. The lyrics were some of Madonna’s most introspective. “Mer Girl” dealt with motherhood from the perspective of a woman who had lost her own mother as a child; “Little Star” was a paean to the wise choices, her own daughter would make in the future; “Swim” addressed the topic of violence in popular culture. Still, critics were quick to note that Madonna was doing only what she knew best: taking things from the cultures around her (in this case, techno, Eastern mysticism, and alternative rock) and refining them for mass consumption. Madonna received three Grammy awards for Ray of Light. Her only previous Grammy was for “The Blonde Ambition Tour”, which won the Best Longform video award in 1992.
In 2000, Madonna released the album, Music. A bona fide commercial and critical hit, it saw Madonna abandon her earlier sexual and religious themes for throwaway lyrics and the “party" spirit of dance, pop, and techno. Music was produced partly by Orbit and partly by French techno musician Mirwais Ahmadzai. It spawned her twelfth number one single, “Music”, plus the hits “Don’t Tell Me” and “What It Feels Like for a Girl”. In late 2001, “Impressive Instant” also became a huge club hit although it was never released commercially, to the disappointment of many fans. Music was notable for another revamping of Madonna’s image, this time as a cross between a disco-loving party girl and a rustic cowgirl. It started yet another fashion trend, with pink cowboy hats adorned by tiaras seen on streets and catwalks around the world.
She released her second Greatest Hits album, GHV2, in 2001; unlike her previous greatest hits compilation, GHV2 featured a selection of her hits from the 1992–2001 period, but did not contain any new songs. Without a single to promote the album, Madonna decided to release a promotional-only single and video, entitled the “Thunderpuss GHV2 Megamix”. While the medley earned relatively subdued radio coverage, the video was a modest success on MTV, MTV2, and VH1.
In 2001 Madonna went on her “Drowned World Tour”. It was completely sold out (some venues within thirty-five minutes), and was Madonna’s first world tour since 1993’s Girlie Show Tour. Madonna perfomed her more current songs from the Bedtime Stories album onwards, with the exception of “Holiday” and “La Isla Bonita”. On this tour, the world saw a different Madonna, rocking on electric guitar in “Candy Perfume Girl”, and playing lead acoustic guitar (sometimes solo) in “I Deserve It”, “Secret”, “La Isla Bonita” and a new song only heard in concert, and simply referred to as “The Funny Song”.
In 2002, Madonna performed the theme song to the James Bond film, Die Another Day, a top-ten hit (number eight) on the Billboard Hot 100. The theme song was released to mixed reviews. In one case, the song was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song; however, it was also nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Original Song (2002).
American critics described American Life as “tired”, monotonous, and an indication that she was “in need of a vacation” from the stress of her career. However, the album was a success outside the U.S. where the subsequent singles, “Hollywood” and “Love Profusion”, continued to place Madonna on the charts. Madonna tried to warm up American radio to the collection with a promotional campaign with rapper, Missy Elliott, sponsored by The Gap retail clothing chain, using the tune “Into the Hollywood Groove”. “Love Profusion” was also used in commercials by Estee Lauder. Neither promotion however was able to revive the album in the States.
In 2004, Madonna embarked on her greatest hits tour, the “Re-Invention World Tour”, during which she played 56 dates across the United States, Canada, and Europe. The tour explored social, political and religious themes, and included images of yoga, sacred geometry, tarot cards and astrology, as well as Judeo-Christian iconography such as the tree of life. “Re-Invention” became the highest-grossing tour of 2004, earning 125 million dollars according to Billboard magazine, and once again confirmed the longevity of Madonna’s popularity. Also in 2004, Madonna became one of the five founding members of the UK Music Hall of Fame, joining Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Bob Marley, and U2 as automatic inductees.
On July 2, 2005, Madonna participated in the British Live 8 concert from Hyde Park, London. Madonna performed her hit songs “Like a Prayer”, “Ray of Light”, and “Music”. Before performing, she greeted Birhan Woldu on stage, a young woman who had almost died in the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s. Woldu’s unexpected appearance on stage, followed immediately by Madonna’s performance of “Like a Prayer” (hand-in-hand with Woldu), was hailed worldwide as one of the highlights of the event.
Confessions on a Dancefloor returned her to her roots. With one foot in early disco and the other pointed toward the future, Confessions on a Dance Floor is all about having a good time straight through and non-stop. For Madonna, who co-wrote and co-produced every track, the all-dance, no-ballad album is nothing but a guilty pleasure.
Madonna's eleventh, and final, studio album for Warner Bros., Hard Candy is a brilliant up-tempo collection that adds hip-hop to the cultural icon's club sensibilities, thanks to collaborations with Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Pharrell Williams and Nate "Danja" Hills.
MDNA (2012), the twelfth studio album and long-awaited follow-up to her 2008 album Hard Candy, features production from Benny Benassi, The Demolition Crew, William Orbit, Martin Solveig and others. It includes the first single, “Give Me All Your Luvin',” featuring Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.