By the start of the 21st Century, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone - known to all simply as Madonna - had become widely regarded as the most successful and simultaneously the most controversial female solo pop singer of all time. In addition to her music career, Madonna has also starred in numerous feature films and has become a successful businesswoman, with her own clothes range and storybooks. However, the 'Queen of Pop' has not always been so well off - in fact, she started her career at the bottom of the ladder with hardly a penny to her name.
Born Madonna Louise Ciccone on 16 August, 1958, into an Italian-American family, Madonna's parents were father Sylvio Ciccone (a design engineer for General Motors) and mother Madonna Ciccone. She adopted the name Veronica when confirmed. Madonna grew up in Michigan as the third of eight children, and her childhood nickname was 'Little Nonni'. When Madonna was only six years old, her mother died from breast cancer; the family was torn apart and the children were sent away to live with relatives.
When the family was finally reunited, their father had started a relationship with Joan Gustafson, the family's old housekeeper, and the children were told to call Gustafson 'mother' - something that Madonna refused to do. As the oldest daughter, Madonna found herself with a lot of responsibility in taking care of the younger children and was kept busy with homework and household chores. The whole family was keen on music and all her brothers and sisters played musical instruments except Madonna, who had dancing lessons.
As a youngster Madonna was sent to several Catholic schools including Saint Andrew's, Saint Frederick's and Academie Du Sacre Coeur. She found it very oppressive and it wasn't long before Madonna showed a rebellious streak, doing everything she was not supposed to do even if it meant regularly getting into trouble for it. Madonna learnt gymnastics, baton twirling, tap and jazz when she was at school and it was these art forms that made her the happiest.
Madonna did well for herself at school and competed for her father Sylvio's attention by getting lots of 'A' grades, earning herself a 25 cent reward from her father every time she achieved one. She appeared in various school plays too, and was often cast in the lead role. Later on in her education Madonna won a dance scholarship, landing herself a place at the University of Michigan - where she met and was inspired by ballet school owner, Chris Flynn.
In 1977, prompted by Flynn, Madonna travelled to New York in pursuit of her dream career to be a ballet dancer. With only $35 in her pocket, Madonna initially struggled both financially and from loneliness. During her time in New York she occupied a house infested by cockroaches and lived near drunks, which she feared might disappoint her father. But she was determined not to give up and persevered, working late into the evening at fast food restaurants to earn her keep and attending the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre (thanks to a scholarship) during the day for two years.
In 1979, Patrick Hernandez came into Madonna's life and persuaded her to join his own revue of dancers. She travelled with The Patrick Hernandez Revue to Paris, where she met and partnered up with Dan Gilroy as a drummer in a band called 'The Breakfast Club' before later becoming the band's lead singer. Then in 1980 she quit 'The Breakfast Club' and partnered up with her former boyfriend Stephen Bray and under the name 'Emmy' they produced and performed a few songs that would later provide Madonna with several hit singles such as 'Everybody'1 , 'Physical Attraction' and 'Holiday'.
Madonna's breakthrough in music came when she signed up to Gotham Records, who in turn passed her on to Sire Records. Sire Records believed that Madonna's music would sell more if her true appearance was kept a secret - therefore images of her didn't feature on the covers of her music. Not only was Madonna perceived as black during her time with Sire Records, but the company mechanically altered her voice as well, so that she sounded more feminine.
In 1983, Madonna's self-titled first album was released, and was an instant hit in several countries. Following this success she stunned audiences in 1984 at the MTV Music Awards with her appearance in a wedding gown and bustier while singing 'Like a Virgin'. The album Like a Virgin flew off the shelves in 1984 gaining Madonna a three-time platinum status in the American charts. Then in 1985 she embarked on her first performance tour, with support from rap act the Beastie Boys, under the same name as her 1984 hit album Like a Virgin.
Oh What A Circus
Not only has Madonna been successful at securing the number one slot on the music charts, but she has even been able to secure herself roles in many films. 1985 was a particularly hectic year for the star as the films A Certain Sacrifice, Vision Quest and Desperately Seeking Susan were released featuring Madonna. The following year the film Shanghai Surprise, featuring Madonna and Sean Penn (whom she later married in 1985) was released adding to her fame and fortune2.
During 1987 Madonna appeared in the film Who's That Girl?, which featured a soundtrack co-written by Madonna herself and Patrick Leonard, who also helped Madonna create the hits 'Live to Tell', 'True Blue', 'Papa Don't Preach' and 'Open Your Heart' during 1985. Despite the film failing at the box office Madonna went on tour under the same name as the film. Madonna's controversial and sometimes outrageous on-stage persona provoked outrage amongst many religious groups - in particular, her use of the crucifix as a fashion symbol and the direct association between her name and Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ appalled Pope John Paul II, who entreated Catholics not to watch her performances. Despite the Pope's attempts, the 'Who's That Girl' tour was unaffected and proved to be a massive success.
Answering Pepsi's Prayer
In 1989, Madonna released her next album, Like A Prayer, which once again managed to hit the number one position on the charts. The singles 'Express Yourself', 'Cherish', and 'Keep It Together' took up top ten slots. However, all of this success was overshadowed by the enormous controversy attracted by Madonna's video for the single 'Like A Prayer' and the sponsorship deal she signed with the Pepsi-Cola Corporation.
Believing that a celebrity would encourage fans to buy their product, Pepsi arranged for Madonna's 'Like A Prayer' song to be used on a series of high-profile TV adverts, paying her $5 million for the privilege. However, when the video for the single release of 'Like A Prayer' was shown, it attracted a firestorm of complaints - some from people angered at what they perceived to be the portrayal in the video of Christ as a black man, some angry at the depiction of burning crosses (normally associated with the Ku Klux Klan), others simply objecting to Madonna full stop. Unwilling to be associated with such a controversial figure, Pepsi withdrew their adverts.
Madonna then went on to appear in Warren Beatty's film Dick Tracy (1990) in which she performed a number of musical numbers, including the Stephen Sondheim-penned 'Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)'. That song won the Oscar for best song the following year3. Some of the songs from the film appeared on the album I'm Breathless, which was inspired by the film, though they were overshadowed somewhat by another, original track - 'Vogue'. When it was released as a single it became yet another transatlantic chart-topper for Madonna, taking an obscure new night-club dance trend called 'voguing'4 and transformed it into a brief international dance fad. The classy black and white video for the single was ranked fourth best music video by MTV in the early 1990s and remains a favourite with many people to this day.
Madonna's first greatest hits compilation, The Immaculate Collection (complete with a few new tracks), appeared at the end of 1990, just before she embarked upon the massive Blonde Ambition Tour. The tour later featured in the 1991 documentary film, Truth or Dare5. In 1992, Madonna achieved some of her best reviews to that date for her supporting role in the baseball movie A League of Their Own, which also featured her song 'This Used To Be My Playground'. That same year another documentary called Blast 'Em was released, and Madonna's fame and notoriety scaled new heights around the globe with the release of her book, Sex', a collection of erotic naked images of herself in a variety of different sexual scenarios. Needless to say, the chance to see a series of naked pictures of Madonna proved to be an irresistible draw for many people and the very expensive aluminium-clad book rapidly sold out.
Don't Cry For Me Argentina
By the early 1990s, Madonna's film career seemed to be stuck in something of a rut. After her early movies received great critical acclaim and healthy box-office receipts, her later films tended to misfire rather badly. In 1993, Madonna received her third 'Razzie' award6 for her role in the erotic thriller Body of Evidence (after having scooped the very unprestigious award for her earlier work on Shanghai Surprise and Who's That Girl?). Madonna would later pick up more 'Razzies' for The Next Best Thing in 2000, Worst Actress and Worst Screen Couple for Swept Away (2002) and a Worst Supporting Actress award for Die Another Day, also in 2002. Embarrassingly, Madonna also claimed the Razzies' Worst Actress of the Century and All-Time Worst Actress awards. Which is, to be blunt, rather harsh.
So it came as something of a surprise when Madonna was cast in the lead role of the feature film Evita, a movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit musical of the life story of Argentinean first lady Eva Perón. When Madonna heard that Lloyd Webber would be making a film of Evita, she lobbied him long and hard for the role, feeling that the role of Eva - a woman from humble beginnings who became a famous woman both adored and loathed by the public - was one that she simply had to play. The casting of Madonna in Evita turned out to be an inspired decision, with the film proving to be a hit at the box office and a success with critics. Madonna won the prestigious Golden Globe Award for 'Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical', with the film itself walking away with the 'Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical' prize at the same ceremony. The soundtrack album became yet another runaway success, the 12th Madonna album to go platinum. Furthermore, the one original song created for the feature film - 'You Must Love Me' - won the biggest possible prize: the Academy Award. 1996 was a year of great happiness for Madonna - not only was her career on the ascendent, she also gave birth to her first child, Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon (pronounced Lord-esz; Madonna's nickname for her daughter is 'Lola') on 14 October. Although Madonna's relationship with Lourdes' father (actor/fitness instructor Carlos Leon) didn't last very long, they remain friends to this day.
In 1997 Madonna abandoned her family religion Catholicism, converted to Judaism and began to investigate the Kabbalah7. Since this time she has studied Kabbalah at the controversial Kabbalah Centre in London and adopted the name Esther in tribute to the legendary Jewish Queen of ancient Persia. She has also applied the belief system of Kabbalah to her creative work. Madonna is not the only celebrity to have been influenced by Judaism and Kabbalah; other celebrities such as Britney Spears, Courtney Love, Roseanne Barr and Demi Moore also are followers.
1998 saw the release of the album Ray of Light, which was instantly hailed by critics and fans around the globe as her best work to date. Combining dance music with spirituality and a newfound sense of self-awareness brought about by the birth of her daughter, Ray of Light was a commercial success, reaching No 2 in the US and No 1 in the UK charts. Madonna also received three Grammy awards for Ray of Light, adding to her previous Grammy which she earned for the creation of 'The Blonde Ambition Tour' back in 1992. After a string of five hit singles from Ray of Light came two singles used to promote feature films - 'Beautiful Stranger' (from the soundtrack of the 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) and a cover of the Don McLean classic 'American Pie' (from the film 'The Next Best Thing' in 2000). 2000 also saw the release of Madonna's next album, Music, which boasted hits including 'Music', 'Don't Tell Me' and 'What It Feels Like for a Girl' - the video for which was directed by an English man called Guy Ritchie...
Crazy For Richie
Madonna met her second husband, film director Guy Ritchie, at a dinner party hosted by Sting and his wife Trudie Styler in 1998. There was an instant connection between the couple and when Madonna's marriage to Sean Penn was finally dissolved in 2000, Ritchie persuaded Madonna to leave America and live with him in the UK. She did and they now own a £9 million residence named Ashcombe House, which is located on the Wiltshire/Dorset border. The couple celebrated the birth of their first child together, a son called Rocco, on August 11, 2000. On 22 December that same year, Madonna and Ritchie were married at Skibo Castle in Scotland. Sadly, on 16 October, 2008, it was announced to the press that after nearly eight years of marriage, Guy Ritchie and Madonna were to divorce.
Madonna and Ritchie's relationship extends beyond the personal into their professional lives. As mentioned above, Ritchie directed a video for one of Madonna's singles - she has also starred in one of his films, 2002's Swept Away (which unfortunately proved to be a critical and commercial misfire for them both). That same year, Madonna sang the theme song to the James Bond film Die Another Day, also making a brief cameo appearance in the film as a fencing instructor.
Who's That Girl?
Anyone thinking that motherhood and marriage would mark the end of Madonna as a controversial figure was proved sadly deluded when, at the MTV Music Awards in 2003, Madonna played tonsil hockey with pop starlets Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera during a performance onstage of her hits 'Like a Virgin' and 'Hollywood'. The same year, promotion for Madonna's new album American Life was derailed when the video to the title song was withdrawn by Madonna just days prior to the song's release. The video, which showed a group of overweight soldiers parading in front of a George Bush look-alike lighting a cigar with a hand-grenade, seemed to clearly state Madonna's personal stance about the Iraq war which had begun a brief few weeks before. However, with casualties mounting on both sides, the withdrawal of the original video was perhaps an acknowledgement that the timing for such a video was both inappropriate and, with war well underway, rather too late. With such a muted launch for the album, and with a critical response to this work best described as 'lukewarm', it's not surprising that American Life was Madonna's lowest-selling album to date.
The next few years saw Madonna successfully branch out into yet another area of artistic endeavour - that of writing children's books. Her first book, The English Roses, was published in 2003 and holds the record for the fastest-selling children's picture book. Subsequent works Mr. Peabody's Apples, Adventures of Abdi, Yakov and the Seven Thieves and Lotsa de Casha, have been eagerly received by their intended young audience.
Madonna has also created a clothes range named 'Wazoo', so now fans can really dress like her. She continues to manage her own record label, Maverick (a division of Time Warner), which has signed artists like Alanis Morisette, Lillix and Michelle Branch.
Although the cynical might suggest that Madonna's involvement in a variety of high-profile charity events and concerts might be self-motivated in order to raise her own profile and sell more and more records, the fact is that Madonna has been giving up her time to perform at such worthwhile events for more than 20 years now. Back in 1985, when she was still barely known on both sides of the Atlantic, she appeared at the original Live Aid concert in Philadelphia. Fast forward to 2 July, 2005, and Madonna provided one of the stand-out performances at the Live 8 concert in London's Hyde Park. For many people, one of the most memorable images of that astonishing day was when 21-year old Ethiopian university graduate Birhan Woldu - who would have died of starvation back in 1985 had it not been for the original Live Aid concert - held Madonna's hand through her performance of 'Like a Prayer'.
Hung Up on Madonna
During Summer 2005 she fell off her horse and was left with a broken hand, cracked ribs and a fractured collar bone), but it was the release of a new album, Confessions on a Dancefloor, that generated even more headlines and press coverage. When 'Hung Up', the first single from Confessions on a Dancefloor, was released in November 2005, it shot straight to the top of the UK singles chart, over 20 years after 'Into the Groove' gave Madonna her first British No 1.
Another shock story followed when she adopted Malawi born David Banda. Following this incident she told PEOPLE, that:
I expect to be given a hard time about many of the things I do. I know they are provocative and I prepare myself, but I did not expect the media, the government or any human rights organizations to take a stand against me trying to save a child's life.
Madonna also talked to Oprah before speaking to numerous other broadcasters and journalists.
In October 2006, Madonna left Warner Music Group to sign up with Live Nation. The new deal meant that Live Nation had a share in the merchandise and musical projects that Madonna then projected. Madonna said 'The paradigm in the music business has shifted and as an artist and a business woman, I have to move with that shift'.
On being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 by Justin Timberlake, she celebrated by debuting the single '4 Minutes' from her new album Hard Candy. The new album features collaborations between herself and Timberlake. That same year, the adoption of Malawi born David to Madonna was made official and a documentary commenting upon the state of Malawi was released called I Am because We Are.
At the time of writing (late 2008), Madonna's career seems to show no sign of slowing down whatsoever. For she has just embarked on the Sticky and Sweet Tour. Now 50 years old, it's a true testament to this unique artist's determination, charisma and ability that she's still able to command the attention of the world's press - and for her work as well as for her private life. With the new album receiving rave reviews from the critics, it seems as though there's no stopping the success of this most iconic of stars. Madonna is still, without question, the 'Queen of Pop'.
Discography and Other Trivia
- Madonna (1983)
- Like A Virgin (1984)
- True Blue (1986)
- You Can Dance (1987)
- Who's That Girl (1987)
- Like A Prayer (1989)
- Immaculate Collection (1990)
- I'm Breathless (1990)
- Erotica (1992)
- Bedtime Stories (1994)
- Something to Remember (1995)
- Evita (1996)
- Ray of Light (1998)
- Music (2000)
- Madonna Greatest Hits Volume Two(2001)
- American Life (2003)
- Remixed and Revisited (2003)
- Confessions on a Dancefloor (2005)
- Hard Candy (2008)
Madonna has released a huge number of singles during her career; listed below are the ones that, to date, have reached the coveted No 1 spot in the UK singles chart.
- 'Into The Groove' (1985)
- 'Papa Don't Preach' (1986)
- 'True Blue' (1986)
- 'La Isla Bonita' (1987)
- 'Who's That Girl' (1987)
- 'Like A Prayer' (1989)
- 'Vogue' (1990)
- 'Frozen' (1998)
- 'Music' (2000)
- 'Hung Up' (2005)
- 'Sorry' (2006)
- '4 Minutes' (2008)
Even more impressively, an additional 40 single releases have reached the UK Top Ten.
- The Virgin Tour (1985)
- Who's That Girl Tour (1987)
- Blond Ambition Tour (1990)
- The Girlie Show Tour (1993)
- Drowned World Tour (2001)
- The Re-Invention Tour (2004)
- Confessions Tour (2006)
- Sticky and Sweet Tour (2008)
Films and Documentaries
- A Certain Sacrifice(1985)
- Vision Quest(1985)
- Desperately Seeking Susan(1985)
- Shanghai Surprise(1986)
- Who's That Girl?(1987)
- Bloodhounds of Broadway(1989)
- Dick Tracy(1990)
- Madonna: Truth or Dare / In Bed With Madonna (1991)
- Blast 'Em(1992)
- A League of Their Own(1992)
- Body of Evidence(1993)
- Dangerous Game(1993)
- Blue in the Face(1995)
- Four Rooms(1995)
- Girl 6(1996)
- Junket Whore(1998)
- Torrance Rises(1999)
- The Next Best Thing(2000)
- The Hire: Star(2001)
- Swept Away (2002)
- Die Another Day (2002)
- I'm Going to Tell You a Secret (2005)
- I Am Because We Are (2008)