Madonna (entertainer)

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Madonna publicity photo,  c. 2000.
Madonna publicity photo, c. 2000.

Madonna (born Madonna Louise Ciccone on August 16, 1958 in Bay City, Michigan) is an American multi-Grammy Award winning Pop and Rock singer and composer, Golden Globe winning actress and bestselling author. Making her debut in the early 1980s, she has become the most successful female solo artist of all time (according to Guinness World Records), selling over 200 million albums worldwide. [1]

Madonna currently resides in Wiltshire, England with her husband, film director Guy Ritchie and her two children.



Childhood and beginning

Madonna was born to an Italian-American Chrysler engineer, Silvio "Tony" P. Ciccone, and Madonna Louise Fortin (from a French Canadian family in Bay City, Michigan). She was raised in a Catholic family of eight children in the Detroit suburbs of Pontiac and Rochester Hills.

Her mother died at the age of thirty, of breast cancer, on December 1, 1963, 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 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.

Madonna attended Rochester Adams High School, where she was a straight-A student and excelled at sports. She was a member of the cheerleading squad, honing her dance skills. After graduating from 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 Lang. 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 fledgeling 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.


The First Album

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.

Madonna's first hit was "Everybody", produced by Mark Kamins, which peaked at #3 on the Billboard Dance chart. It gained heavy rotation on R&B radio stations, leading many to assume that Madonna was an African American 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 Madonna's first top 20 hit single in several countries. Other hits on Madonna included "Borderline" and "Lucky Star." The album was produced by Reggie Lucas and with contributions from John 'Jellybean' Benitez, with whom Madonna had had a brief romance. 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 (with brown roots), 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.

Like a Virgin

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.

Madonna's performance at the First Annual MTV Video Music Awards in 1984 at the age of 26 is considered to be the first controversial incident in a career that would see many more. She took the stage to sing "Like A Virgin" wearing a combination bustier/wedding gown, which included her trademark "Boy Toy" belt. During the performance, she rolled around on the floor, revealing lacy stockings and garters, and made a number of sexually suggestive moves. While such a performance would probably not raise eyebrows today, it was shocking to a mid-1980s audience. However, Madonna seemed to thrive on the controversy, and it only served to increase her popularity. The record spawned three other hits, all of which went to Billboard's Top Five.

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.

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 Grammy nominations, and the song's video, combining clips from the movie with Madonna singing, was in heavy rotation on MTV for months. Later that same year, she received commercial and critical success for her starring role in Susan Seidelman's film Desperately Seeking Susan."

This era of Madonna's career also saw the advent of the "Madonna Wannabe". Across America, teenage girls went to great lengths to emulate their idol, dressing in spandex, miniskirts, torn t-shirts, and lacy bras, with armfuls of black rubber bangles, and teased, bow-tied hair. Madonna has remarked in interviews that it was startling to see girls dressing like her all over the country, because her "look" was based mainly on recycled streetwear during her lean years, using old hosiery to tie up her hair and cutting up old shirts.

Also 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.

The September 1985 cover of Playboy pictured Madonna
The September 1985 cover of Playboy pictured Madonna

Around this time, a number of black and white nude photos of Madonna surfaced, published in both Penthouse and Playboy magazines. The photos were taken during the late 1970s, when she posed for art photographers in New York City as a way to make money.

1985 proved to be a pivotal year both professionally and personally for Madonna. Along with enjoying the commercial success of the Like A Virgin album and tour and her film appearances, she also met and fell in love with actor Sean Penn. On her twenty-seventh birthday, August 16, 1985, Penn and Madonna were married in an outdoor ceremony in Malibu, California.

True Blue

In 1986, Madonna released her third album, True Blue. 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.

One of the hit songs, "Papa Don't Preach," caused some cultural debate and controversy. In the song, a girl is confessing to her father that she is pregnant. 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.

Madonna appeared with husband, Sean Penn, in the 1986 film Shanghai Surprise, which was unanimously panned by critics. The couple soon earned a reputation for hostility towards the media, thanks to Penn's frequently violent outbursts against the paparazzi. The paparazzi often referred to the couple as the "Poison Penns."

In 1987 Madonna starred in the film Who's That Girl, which was a flop in the U.S., but a minor success in the rest of the world. Nevertheless, the soundtrack spawned three hits: the title track, "Causing a Commotion", and "The Look of Love." She also appeared as Hortense in a film called Bloodhounds of Broadway, which was harshly dismissed by many reviewers.

Madonna embarked on the "Who's That Girl World Tour," beginning her long association with backing vocalists and dancers Donna DeLory and Niki Haris. The tour marked her first run-in with the Vatican; the Pope urged fans not to attend her performances in Italy. The fans were not affected, however, and the tour went on as scheduled. That year she also released a successful remix album entitled You Can Dance.

On September 14, 1989 she divorced husband Sean Penn, citing spousal abuse.

Like a Prayer

In 1989, at the age of 31, Madonna released the album Like a Prayer. The album released five singles, including top ten hits Like a Prayer, Express Yourself, Cherish, Oh Father, and Keep It Together. Prayer is often cited by critics as the best album of her career.

The music video for Like a Prayer featured many Catholic symbols, such as stigmata, and was denounced by the Vatican for its "blasphemous" mixture of eroticism, Catholic symbolism, and its implied story about racism. (In addition to a scene where police mistake an innocent black man for a murderer, the video features Madonna dancing in a field of burning crosses, a symbol of the KKK's historic terrorism against African Americans.)

Madonna had signed a deal with Pepsi, according to which the song "Like a Prayer" would be debuted as a Pepsi commercial in which Madonna would appear. When Madonna's own music video version of the song debuted on MTV, Pepsi pulled theirs off the air and cancelled all plans for future commercials with Madonna. Though the contract with Pepsi called for three future commercials, Madonna got to keep her five-million-dollar endorsement fee without fulfilling her contractual obligations.


The cover of Madonna's I'm Breathless album cover featured Madonna, playing the character of Breathless Mahoney.
The cover of Madonna's I'm Breathless album cover featured Madonna, playing the character of Breathless Mahoney.

Dick Tracy

In 1990, at the age of 32, she starred as Breathless Mahoney in Dick Tracy alongside Warren Beatty, whom she also briefly dated. She earned some good reviews for the role, though critics pointed out that it continued her tradition of performing well when portraying characters quite similar to herself (in this case, a demanding and powerful vamp). 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 "voguing").

Widely considered one of her best songs, "Vogue" (also directed by David Fincher) would routinely be ranked as one of the top four music videos of all time by MTV during the early 1990s.

The Immaculate Collection

She also released her first greatest hits album, The Immaculate Collection, towards the end of 1990. The album was dedicated to the "Pope", her "divine inspiration". She included fifteen of her biggest hits and two new songs, both top-ten hits.

Despite the radio success of the single release of "Justify My Love", the sexual content of both the song's lyrics and its ground-breaking video proved to be too much for MTV, and network executives decided they could not air it. Madonna's record company then decided to sell the video on VHS as a "video single", the first one ever released. The video sold over 400,000 copies, and the CD single sold over one million.

In 1991, Madonna starred in her first documentary film, In Bed with Madonna, which chronicled her "Blonde Ambition Tour"; the title was changed to Truth or Dare for its U.S. release. In it, her personality and private life were explored in intimate detail: the star came across as extremely ambitious, demanding, forthright, sexy, and highly intelligent. It also showed her softer side as she confronted family members and visited the grave of her mother. The documentary grossed fifteen million in the U.S. and another twenty million overseas.

In 1992, Madonna appeared in the Penny Marshall film, A League of Their Own, which revolved around a women's baseball team. Her performance was heralded by critics as an impressive return to the form she'd hinted at in Desperately Seeking Susan. She wrote and performed the film's theme song, the number-one hit "This Used to Be My Playground". It became a huge adult contemporary music hit and Madonna's tenth Hot 100 number one single.


The erotic book Sex, photographed by Steven Meisel, was released October 21, 1992 and sold for $49.95 each. Adult in nature, it featured Madonna as the centerpiece of photographs along with other pop music artists of the time depicting various sexual fantasies and acts (including lesbianism, and sadomasochism). It became an instant bestseller.

In the wake of publicity generated by the book, Madonna, at the age of 34 released her next album, Erotica, in the same year. She co-wrote and produced this record mostly with the legendary Shep Pettibone. Almost a companion piece to the book, 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. It was a huge hit, but the controversal erotic video only aired a total of three times on MTV.

Body of Evidence was regarded by many commentators as an exercise in soft-core pornography, with Madonna portraying a woman accused of killing her lover by means of sexual intercourse. The film was R-rated and contained copious nudity and graphic sex scenes. Dangerous Game was similar in plot and content. Madonna would later comment that this entire period of her life was designed to give the world every single morsel of what they seemed to be demanding in their invasion of her private life. She hoped that once it was all out in the open, people could settle down and focus on her work.

Bedtime Stories

In 1994, at the age of 36, Madonna released Bedtime Stories. It included "Secret", produced by Dallas Austin, and the #1 smash "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.

In an attempt to improve her acting credentials, Madonna opted over the next few years to take small roles in independent films. She appeared as a singing telegram girl in Blue in the Face (1995) and as a witch in Four Rooms (1995). She played the part of a phone sex company owner in Spike Lee's flop Girl 6 in 1996.

Madonna released a greatest ballads album in 1996: 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.

Album cover of Madonna's Ray of Light
Album cover of Madonna's Ray of Light

Evita and Ray of Light

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 Madonna underwent another reinvention of style. During 1996 and 1998, she began studying Kabbalah, a mystical interpretation of the Torah. She took Yoga lessons and pursued a vigorous exercise regime that brought her body to a peak of toned fitness. She became pregnant by her then lover, personal trainer Carlos Leon, and gave birth to her daughter, Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon (Lola), on October 14, 1996. In 1998, at the age of 40, she released Ray of Light, an album co-produced by European electronic music performer William Orbit. The release was Madonna's first critically-acclaimed recording since "Like a Prayer", and her biggest hit in nearly ten years, selling more than seventeen million copies worldwide. It spawned three U.S. top-ten singles, with "Frozen" going to number two. Madonna also 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.

After Ray of Light, Madonna contributed the top ten hit "Beautiful Stranger" to the soundtrack of the Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me film in 1999. In 2000, Madonna focused next on her pet project, a film called The Next Best Thing. Critics and audiences alike panned the film, which marked yet another disappointment in Madonna's ill-fated film career. The soundtrack spawned the worldwide (excluding the U.S.) number one hit, "American Pie", a dance cover version of the Don McLean classic.



Cover of Madonna's Music album
Cover of Madonna's Music album

In 2000, at the age of 42, 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". Madonna was pregnant with her second child, Rocco, during the shooting of the "Music" video, parts of which contain animation. The controversal "What It Feels Like for a Girl" video was directed by Madonna's husband, film director Guy Ritchie.

On 22 December 2000 at Skibo Castle in Scotland, Madonna married director Guy Ritchie. Madonna 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. In June 2001, she appeared in Star, a short commercial film directed for BMW by Ritchie, and then began working on Swept Away. The film, released in 2002, was critically panned and went on to become yet another in a string of acting flops.

In 2001 Madonna went on her "Drowned World Tour". It was completely sold out and was Madonna's first world tour since 1993's "The Girlie Show Tour".

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. She also had the opportunity to have a cameo in the film as a fencing instructor named Verity. The song was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song.

American Life

Cover of Madonna's American Life album
Cover of Madonna's American Life album

Her artistic reputation appeared to take a turn for the worse, however, when the critical drubbing she received for Swept Away was followed by an equally brutal critical reception for her 2003 album, American Life. American critics described the album as an indication that she was "in need of a vacation" from the stress of her career. In yet another move that followed her pattern of creating "controversy" in the wake of an album's release, she filmed a music video for "American Life", which included a scene of her tossing a lighter shaped like a hand grenade into the lap of a President George W. Bush lookalike. Perhaps mindful of the protests and boycotts (in the U.S.A.) that had greeted the Dixie Chicks after they made some anti-war comments (though she publicly denied it in an interview with Matt Lauer), the video was revoked on the day it premiered; it was later replaced by a video simply featuring Madonna performing the song in military garb in front of changing flags of the world. The album was an average success outside the U.S., where the subsequent singles "Hollywood" and "Love Profusion" continued to place Madonna on the charts.

Screenshot from the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards
Screenshot from the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards

Madonna is famous for her appearances at the MTV Video Music Awards, which celebrate the the top music videos of the year. The 2003 MTV Video Music Awards featured Madonna, who provoked the public by portraying a groom and kissing her brides, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, on stage. The gender role-reversal and lesbian theme instantly made front page headlines.

Re-Invention Tour

In 2004, Madonna embarked on her greatest hits tour, the "Re-Invention World Tour", during which she played 56 dates across the world. The tour 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.

After a brief battle with Warner Brothers Records (with whom she shared record label Maverick), Madonna sold her shares in the label and announced that she is no longer involved in its dealings.

In the same month, Madonna announced that she had adopted the name Esther, a tribute to the legendary Jewish Queen of ancient Persia. This decision and much of the artistic imagery used in her recent work have been driven by Madonna's intense study of Kabbalah at the controversial Kabbalah Centre in London, and her abandonment of Catholicism. She became a Kabbalist in 1997.

Tsunami Aid & Live 8

On December 26, 2004, after a tsunami hit India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia among other countries, NBC organized an aid concert called Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope, to which celebrities such as Madonna, Diana Ross, Maroon 5, and Elton John, among others, donated their voices. It was televised on January 15, 2005; Madonna sang a cover of John Lennon's song "Imagine".

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, a young woman who had almost died in the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s, on stage. 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.

Cover of Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor album
Cover of Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor album

Confessions on a Dance Floor

In July 2005, at the age of 47, Madonna announced that she would be releasing a new album, titled Confessions on a Dance Floor. The first single, "Hung Up", was released on Monday, October 17, 2005, and, as of 2005, is getting heavy rotation on radio stations worldwide and debuted at #20 on the Billboard Hot 100. During the first week, Hung Up was the #1 download on iTunes stores around the world. According to a press release, "On her highly anticipated new Warner Bros. Records release, 'Confessions on a Dance Floor', Madonna brilliantly re-invents dance music for our time. A stunning creative leap into the dazzling dimension of 'future disco', these dozen new originals simultaneously capture the spontaneous thrill of the iconic superstar’s early hits." Confessions was co-produced by Madonna, Stuart Price and a host of others including Mirwais Ahmadzai. By November 2, 2005, the entire album had leaked onto the internet.

On August 16 – the day of her forty-seventh birthday – she slipped off her horse while riding with friends at her English country home, Ashcombe House, and was taken to a hospital with five cracked ribs, a broken collar bone, a misaligned fibula, a mild case of angina, and a broken hand. She was released later that day.

On September 6, 2005, Madonna's entire catalog became available for the first time on iTunes. Madonna about the deal: "It's all about royalties -— how much they're getting and how much we're getting. It was just a crap deal then. It's safe to say it's better now." [2]

Her documentary titled I'm Going To Tell You A Secret was filmed during her Re-Invention world tour showcasing Madonna behind the scenes. On October 21, 2005 the documentary made its TV debut on MTV.

On November 3, 2005, Madonna opened the MTV Europe Music Awards, performing "Hung Up" live for the first time. On stage with her were 10 dancers and a band, but no backing singers.

Current projects

  • Madonna is lending her voice to the big budget (approximately eighty million dollars) 2006 animated film Arthur and the Minimoys. Madonna provides the voice of Princess Selenia. The film is expected to be released in December 2006.
  • Madonna is planning a world tour for 2006. Madonna about the tour: "I'm currently exploring the possibility. If I go on tour, it would be next summer. And it would be all out disco, with lots of disco balls. I would focus on dance music and the new record. I already did the older stuff on my Re-Invention tour." [3]


See also


  • Farinodin, Faridul Anwar (Nov. 5, 2005). "Madonna just wants to dance". New Straits Times, p. L14–L15.

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