Madonna's mother died of breast cancer at the age of thirty 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. Tony later married the family housekeeper, Joan Gustafson, and had two children with her.
Tony 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, excelled at sports and was a member of the cheerleading squad. After graduating from high school in 1976, Madonna received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan, where she met ballet teacher Christopher Flynn. In addition to mentoring young Madonna in the field of dance, he provided her first exposure to gay discotheques, a scene that would later have considerable impact on the singer's music and style.
In 1977, at the encouragement of Flynn, Madonna left college at the end of her second year and moved to New York City to pursue a dance career. Looking back at her arrival in New York, Madonna has said "When I came to New York it was the first time I'd ever taken a plane, the first time I've ever gotten a taxi-cab, the first time for everything. And I came here with 35 dollars in my pocket. It was the bravest thing I'd ever done."
Madonna would brave financial difficulties throughout this time, living in squalor (when not living off the kindness of friends and lovers) and working a series of low-paying jobs. Madonna would often turn to nude modeling to make ends meet, a choice that would come back to haunt her after reaching mainstream success. During this time she also 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.
While performing as a dancer for French disco star Patrick Hernandez on his 1979 world tour, Madonna met and became romantically involved with musician Dan Gilroy, with whom she would start her first rock band, the Breakfast Club, in New York. Madonna played drums and later sang and played guitar and the drums with The Breakfast Club before forming Emmy in 1980 with drummer and former boyfriend Stephen Bray and then breaking off with Bray to write and produce a number of solo disco and dance songs that brought her local fame in New York dance clubs, particularly Danceteria and Kansas Kansas. A demo of Madonna's Bray collaborations caught the ear of popular New York DJ/Producer Mark Kamins, who brought the tape to the attention of Sire Records.
It was at this time that Madonna received
her first starring film role - a part in the low-budget independent film
A Certain Sacrifice - another career move that would reap unfavorable
attention on Madonna in the years following her success.
Madonna's second single, "Burning Up", would also peak at number 3 on the Billboard Hot Dance/Club Play Chart, but Madonna would not have her first mainstream breakthrough until her third single, "Holiday", was released in July 1983. The song would later peak at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in January 1984 and was Madonna's first top 20 hit single in several countries.
Madonna released her self-titled first album, Madonna, in July 1983. The album peaked at #8 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart and was certified 5 times Platinum by the RIAA. It contained her first three singles as well as the future top 10 hits "Borderline" and "Lucky Star". The album was produced by Reggie Lucas with contributions from John 'Jellybean' Benitez, with whom Madonna had had a brief romance. Although the album sold only moderately at first, Madonna gained nationwide exposure through her music videos receiving heavy rotation on a brand new cable channel called MTV.
MTV aggressively marketed Madonna's image
as a playful and sexy combination of punk and pop culture, and she and
her increasingly elaborate music videos soon became fixtures on the network.
Madonna would join such 1980s stars as Michael Jackson and Prince in using
the music video medium to create a new brand of image-conscious multimedia
star, much to the ire of music critics and rock musicians who saw such
tactics as an unapologetic abuse of style over substance.
The Like A Virgin era proved to inaugurate several lasting features of Madonna's career. The ironic choice of title and theme of Like A Virgin would mirror a career trend that would continue well into the present day: manipulating the media and shocking her audience with controversy - a tactic that often caused Madonna's celebrity to overshadow her music. Madonna's performance at the First Annual MTV Video Music Awards, in which she writhed lustfully on the stage wearing a combination bustier/wedding gown, lacy stockings and garters and her trademark "Boy Toy" belt, was the first of several shocking public displays that boosted Madonna's fan base as much as they incensed critics who saw her as a shallow and talentless flash-in-the-pan. The performance is listed at #11 on VH-1's "Greatest Moments That Rocked TV"
Like a Virgin was also the first time Madonna used her most enduring career strategy: a frequent change of image and theme. 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 the video for Like A Virgin's ironic second single, Material Girl, Madonna's image changed again to send up Marilyn Monroe's Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend musical number in the film [Gentlemen Prefer Blondes]. The single and video are responsible for Madonna's most popular media nickname, "Material Girl".
1985 was the year that Madonna broke out into mainstream film roles, beginning with a brief appearance playing a club singer in the film Vision Quest, a film that contained her second #1 Billboard hit, the Grammy-nominated ballad "Crazy for You". Later that same year, she received modest commercial and critical success for her starring role in Susan Seidelman's film Desperately Seeking Susan, which grossed $27 Million in the US. Like Vision Quest, Susan is most memorable for its soundtrack containing another iconic Madonna song ("Into The Groove"), which, as the flip side to the Like A Virgin track "Angel", reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was recently voted #40 on VH-1's Greatest Dance Songs List.
Madonna launched her first full-scale live performance tour titled "The Virgin Tour". News reports from the tour would highlight the advent of the "Madonna Wannabe" - hordes of teenage girls around the country dressing in spandex, miniskirts, torn t-shirts, and lacy bras, with armfuls of black rubber bangles, teased, bow-tied hair and a stressed mole above the lip to emulate the star.
In July 1985, 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. That same month, Madonna performed at the Live Aid charity concert
Madonna lost a court battle in August
1985 over the video release of A Certain Sacrifice, the low-budget film
she starred in during her her pre-fame New York years. On a positive note,
Madonna met and fell in love with actor Sean Penn in 1985. On her twenty-seventh
birthday, August 16, 1985, Penn and Madonna were married in an outdoor
ceremony in Malibu, California.
The album included the Billboard #1 hits "Live to Tell", (the theme from the film At Close Range, starring then husband Sean Penn), "Papa Don't Preach", and "Open Your Heart", as well as the Billboard Top 10 hits True Blue and "La Isla Bonita". True Blue was a more musically and thematically mature album than it's predecessors, prompting Rolling Stone to declare, "Singing better than ever, Madonna stakes her claim as the pop poet of lower-middle-class America". It is widely believed that the pitch of Madonna's voice was altered on her first two albums to make her sound more "girlish." This was not the case with True Blue, which can be considered the first album that Madonna sang in her "true" voice.
In what was to become typical Madonna fashion when a Madonna album was released, scandal never trailed far behind. The song and video for "Papa Don't Preach" caused an uproar in conservative corners for its portrayal of a young woman who seeks her father's love and acceptance after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. The video won the 1987 MTV Video Music Award for "Best Female Video".
"Papa" and the other True Blue videos showed Madonna's continued interest in pushing boundaries of the music video medium to a cinematic level, including elaborate art direction, cinematography and film devices such as character and plot. In the video for "Open Your Heart" (her first of several collaborations with French photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino), Madonna played a peepshow dancer who befriends a young boy. One of the first indications of Madonna's fondness for Hispanic culture, "La Isla Bonita", portrayed Madonna as a devout Catholic Latina woman and her free-spirited alter ego. Though Madonna had already made videos expressing her sexuality and overflowing with pop cultural references, Madonna would add religious iconography, gender archetypes and social issues to her oeuvre and these concepts would carry through her work for years to come.
Madonna appeared with her husband in the 1986 film Shanghai Surprise, which was unanimously panned by critics. The Penns soon earned a reputation for hostility towards the media due in part to increasing tabloid interest in the couple and Sean Penn's frequently violent outbursts against the paparazzi. The paparazzi often referred to the couple as the "Poison Penns". More bad press came the Penns' way when Madonna was awarded the "Worst Actress" trophy at the Golden Raspberry Awards two years in a row for her roles in Shanghai and the 1987 comedy Who's That Girl. Girl was a critical and commercial failure but it gave Madonna a Platinum-certified soundtrack that included the international #1 hit title track and the #2-charting follow-up, "Causing A Commotion."
Madonna embarked on the successful "Who's That Girl World Tour" in the Summer of 1987, beginning her long association with backing vocalists and dancers Donna DeLory and Niki Haris and moving closer to the more elaborately-staged theater-inspired concert shows that Madonna would become known for in the 1990s. The tour also marked her first run-in with the Vatican. The Pope unsuccessfully urged fans not to attend her performances in Italy. Madonna ended 1987 with the release of her Platinum-certified remix album entitled You Can Dance. The album included one new song, "Spotlight," which became a Top 40 airplay hit despite not being released as a retail single.
She once again found herself at the center
of a controversy involving the Vatican - this time regarding their outrage
at the unveiling of a racy 13-foot Madonna statue in the Italian town
of Pacentro. Madonna would spend the Spring of 1988 rehearsing and performing
in her first theater production, the David Mamet play "Speed-The-Plow",
in New York. Madonna filed assault charges against Sean Penn on December
28, 1988 and officially separated on December 31st and on January 5th,
1989, after four years of marriage.
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. Pepsi's
official reason for canceling the contract was supposed consumer confusion
between the commercial and the actual video for "Like A Prayer,"
and not the controversy over the actual video. 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.
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.
She released her first greatest hits album, The Immaculate Collection, towards the end of 1990. The album was dedicated to the "Pope", her "divine inspiration". In spite that many people still think the dedication was to the Catholic Church Leader, in fact is to her Brother Christopher, whom she calls "The Pope" as a funny nickname, because he manages everything. 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-U.S.A., 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. The follow-up, "Rescue Me," reached No. 9 and likely would have done better if the single had been released earlier to coincide with the song's peak period of airplay.
In 1991, Madonna starred in her first documentary film, Truth or Dare / In Bed with Madonna, which chronicled her "Blond 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 worldwide hit and Madonna's tenth
Hot 100 number one single.
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 controversial erotic video only aired a total of three times on MTV. In the U.S., "Erotica" was followed by "Deeper And Deeper" (#7), "Bad Girl" (#36) and "Rain" (#14). "Bad Girl" had the dubious distinction of becoming the first Madonna single since her hit streak began with "Holiday" to miss the U.S. pop top 20 after 29 consecutive singles had made it. The ballad "Rain" was the only one of the album's singles to be played on Adult Contemporary radio, and the kinder, gentler nature of the song and its video stood in stark contrast to the rest of the album.
Body of Evidence was regarded by U.S.
commentators as an exercise in soft-core pornography, with Madonna's character
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 its graphic and violent content. A movie about making
a movie and the effects of a demanding Director on his leading actor through
affairs, violence and drug abuse. 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.
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 cameo part of a phone sex company owner in Spike Lee's flop Girl 6 in 1996.
In late 1995, Madonna released Something to Remember -- a collection of her greatest ballads; which featured "You'll See," one of three new songs, which went top ten. At the time, Madonna also began gearing up to play the coveted role of Eva Perón in the 1996 film adaptation of Evita. A role she had heavily campaigned for for ten years.
In 1996, Madonna is Eva Perón in Alan Parker's motion picture 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. 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 December 1996/January 1997. The final release from this soundtrack was "Another Suitcase In Another Hall" which reached No.7 in the UK.
In 1996 Madonna became pregnant by her
then lover, personal trainer Carlos Leon, and on October 14 gave birth
to her daughter, Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon (Lola). The next year Madonna
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.
After Ray of Light, Madonna contributed
the top twenty airplay 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., where it stalled at #29) number one hit, "American
Pie", a dance cover version of the Don McLean classic.
Madonna married Ritchie on 22 December 2000 at Skibo Castle in Scotland. She also appeared in Star, a short commercial film directed for BMW by Ritchie, and then began working on Swept Away at the end of the year. 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 sold out and was Madonna's first world tour since 1993's "The Girlie Show Tour". It was later shown on a television special in the US and released on DVD in November 2001 to coincide with the release of her second Greatest Hits album, GHV2. Unlike her previous greatest hits compilation, GHV2 featured a selection of radio edits of her hits from the 19922001 period, but did not contain any new songs. The only single release was an instore/radio megamix containing songs from that era named "Thunderpuss GVH2 Megamix".
In 2002, Madonna performed the theme song
to the James Bond film Die Another Day, a worldwide top-ten hit (number
eight on the Billboard Hot 100). She also had a cameo in the film as a
fencing instructor named Verity. The song was nominated for a Golden Globe
for Best Original Song and was also nominated for a Golden Raspberry for
Madonna performed "Hollywood" in 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, kissing Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera on stage. It became one of the most talked-about performances in the history of MTV Video Music Awards (See main article Madonna Kiss). Shortly after, she scored a moderate hit - a duet with Britney Spears, "Me Against The Music", and released the EP Remixed & Revisited with remixes from American Life. The EP's sales proved to be only moderate; in some countries the release charted as a single, in others as an EP and in some as an album.
In 2004, Madonna embarked on the "Re-Invention World Tour", during which she played fifty-six dates in the US and Europe. The tour became the highest-grossing tour of 2004, earning 125 million dollars according to Billboard magazine. Madonna was both complimented and critisized for including a notable amount of her past hits on the set list, something that contradicted with her previous claims to not be willing to perform her yesteryear hits any longer.
After a brief battle with Warner Brothers Records, with whom she shared record label Maverick, Madonna sold her shares in Maverick and was no longer involved in its dealings.
On December 26, 2004, after a tsunami
hit Asia, Madonna appeared in an aid concert that NBC organized, called
Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope. She sang a cover of John Lennon's song
"Imagine". She also participated in the British Live 8 concert
on July, performing three of her hits, "Like a Prayer", "Ray
of Light" and "Music". On stage, she greeted Birhan Woldu,
a young woman who had almost died in the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s.
In 2005, she released her 10th studio album Confessions on a Dance Floor which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 350,606 copies in its first week. It also debuted at #1 in 38 different countries, and shipped over 3 million copies in the first week of its release. Peaking at number one in as many countries as it did, Confessions on a Dance Floor set a new record previously held by The Beatles. As of February 2006, it has sold over six million copies worldwide, thus being one of Madonna's faster-selling releases. It was produced by Madonna, Stuart Price and a host of others including Mirwais Ahmadzai and Bloodshy & Avant. Originally Don Diablo was supposed to produce a few tracks for the album as well, but a full schedule did not allow the talented producer to put his mark on this release. The album received better critical reviews than any of Madonna's albums since 1998's Ray of Light.
The first single "Hung Up" peaked at number one in almost 40 countries and has sold over three million copies, becoming one of Madonna's biggest hits. The track features a sample of the popular ABBA song "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight)." and was inspired in part by the French childrens' song "Frere Jacques." Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA stated they allowed the use only because the song was "so good", denying that money had anything to do with the decision. This was one of the two times that ABBA has allowed any other artist to sample directly from one of their songs.
Soon after putting out Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna released her second documentary, titled I'm Going To Tell You A Secret, which had been filmed during her 2004 Re-Invention world tour. It showcased Madonna's life behind the scenes of the tour as well as with her family, and it debuted on MTV. Madonna opened the MTV Europe Music Awards 2005, performing "Hung Up" live for the first time. Performances at shows in Mannheim, Tokyo, Paris, New York, and London followed to promote the album. She also appeared, along with other artists - such as Iggy Pop and Little Richard - in a TV commercial for the Motorola ROKR phone.
On on February 8th, 2006, Madonna performed
with the animated rock band Gorillaz to open the 2006 Grammy Awards, in
a medley composed of their hit "Feel Good Inc" and "Hung
Up". This was the first time Madonna performed in the U.S. to promote
Fellow Italian American pop singer Gwen Stefani has been quoted as saying that she and Madonna share a common relative. Stefani has claimed that her great aunt married a man from Detroit, Michigan (the area of Michigan that Madonna is from) with the last name "Ciccone."
Recently references to Kabbalah Centre beliefs and principles have appeared in her music, including the track "Nobody Knows Me" from American Life (I sleep much better at night / I feel closer to the Light / Now I'm gonna try / To Improve my life). Controversy again surrounded her well before the release of her most recent album Confessions on a Dance Floor when many Israeli rabbis condemned Madonna and the forthcoming song "Isaac" (tenth on its track listing) for they believed the song to be a tribute to Rabbi Isaac Luria, also known as Yitzhak Luria (1534-1572), one of the greatest Kabbalists of all time, claiming that Jewish law forbids using a holy rabbi's name for profit (whether Jewish law actually forbids this, or the rabbis were simply uncomfortable with Madonna's song, is disputed). In interviews, Madonna had called this song: "The Binding of Isaac" and rumors spread that it was based on the major episode in the life of the Hebrew patriarch Isaac. Despite continued accusations that the song is about Isaac Luria, Madonna has repeatedly denied such accusations, claiming she could not think of a title for the song and, thereforere, named it after Yitzhak (Isaac) Sinwani. In the song, Madonna sings with Sinwani, an Israeli singer, who is chanting a Yemenite Jewish song. Said Madonna: "The album isn't even out, so how could Jewish scholars in Israel know what my song is about? I don't know enough about Isaac Luria to write a song, though I've learned a bit in my studies."
Madonna has openly defended her Kabbalah studies by stating, for example:
I wouldn't say studying Kabbalah for eight
years goes under the category or falls under the category of being a fad
or a trend. Now there might be people who are interested in it because
they think it's trendy, but I can assure you that studying Kabbalah is
actually a very challenging thing to do. It requires a lot of work, a
lot of reading, a lot of time, a lot of commitment and a lot of discipline.
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