Recognized globally as the Queen of Pop, Madonna is also the queen of reinvention and celebrated as a singer, dancer, producer, and mogul. Since bursting on to the music scene in the early '80s on MTV, the diva has continued to spread her empire that now spans generations and has consistently ranked her as one of the most influential people in entertainment ever.
Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone grew up in Bay City Michigan, the daughter of Silvio Ciccone and Madonna Fortin. As the son of Italian immigrants, Silvio, called ‘Tony’ by friends and family, was an engineer, while her mother, of French Canadian descent, was a former dancer and X-ray technician. Quickly after marrying in Pontiac, Michigan, the family settled into the Detroit suburb of Bay City, where Madonna was the third of six children, the middle child who was raised in a strict Roman Catholic household.
Madonna’s views on religion were shaped very early by her mother’s religious fanaticism and the influence of priests and nuns that paraded through the house as a child. The Catholic school that Madonna attended also played a future role in some of her more controversial works years later. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with Madonna’s youngest sister and died on December 1, 1963, at the age of 30. Madonna was a mere 5 years of age when she passed and it forever shaped her artistry and how she dealt with fame. Her father later remarried, causing a young Madonna to rebel even more by wearing outrageous outfits, clubbing at underground gay nightclubs, and reject Catholicism.
Madonna delved even more into her school work and art, driven to high achievement and perfection as a straight-A student, dancer, and cheerleader. After finishing high school in 1976, she received a full scholarship to dance at the University of Michigan. The following year, she received a scholarship to dance in New York City with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. After fulfilling the six weeks, Madonna dropped out of college and moved to New York to further pursue a career in dance.
In only a few short years after moving to New York, Madonna was making her way through the entertainment business, eventually hiring manager Camille Barbone to release her first #1 pop hit ‘Everybody’ through Sire Records in 1982. With the song heating up the charts, Sire decided to release her debut album, Madonna, in 1983. The album became a success, with the singles ‘Borderline’, ‘Lucky Star’, and ‘Holiday’ heavily played on the then-new MTV (Music Television).
Her next album, Like a Virgin, hit #1 on Billboard and solidified her status as a pop culture phenomenon, producing several top 5 hits, including the iconic ‘Material Girl’. Marrying Hollywood actor Sean Penn around this time, she headed for the big screen, starring with him in the film Shanghai Surprise as well as Who’s That Girl, Bloodhounds of Broadway, and Dick Tracy. By the ’90s, Madonna had expanded her career as both a singer, actress, and producer, appearing in Evita in 1996 and winning the Golden Globe for Best Performance in a Comedy/Musical and the Academy Award for ‘You Must Love Me’, the original song she performed in the film.
The greatest hits album The Immaculate Collection and Something to Remember were followed with her most critically acclaimed album ever, Ray of Light, which featured the William Orbit produced ‘Frozen’ and the title track. The album garnered three Grammys and resulted in further experimentation in the electronic genre. Next came the album Music and the song ‘Beautiful Stranger’ from the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack.
London’s West End was next in the play Up for Grabs in 2002, with the release of her children’s book, The English Roses, debuting at the same time as her next album, American Life. She was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2004, with the release of her next album Confessions on a Dancefloor quickly following. The release was certified platinum and broke the record formerly held by The Beatles for most gold certified singles in the United States.
The Confessions tour became the biggest tour by a female in history, with Forbes declaring her the wealthiest female musician in the world in 2008, with earnings over $72 million from that year through her H&M clothing line and other ventures internationally. Her next project was as writer and executive producer of I Am Because We Are, a documentary about orphanages and the AIDS crisis in Malawi, followed by the art film Filth and Wisdom, both released in 2008. Her Hard Candy CD was released in April 2008 with the Sticky and Sweet tour announced to support its release via concert promoter Live Nation. In 2009, her Celebration album became her 11th #1, breaking the record for most #1 albums in the United Kingdom, surpassing Elvis Presley.
In 2011, her film project W.E. about King Edward VIII and wife Wallis Simpson was released to mixed reviews yet picked up a Golden Globe for original song ‘Masterpiece’. Her next appearance was at Super Bowl XLVI in February 2012 followed by the release of her next album MDNA and tour in support of the release. Her next album in 2014, Rebel Heart, became a hit even after leaking online months before the official release.
Since the beginning of her career, Madonna has always courted controversy, first making waves during a live appearance at the MTV Awards – her ‘Like a Virgin’ performance was denounced by religious organizations and critics mentioned her wedding dress as anti-Catholic. The burning crosses, interracial love affair, and religious undertones in the official video were deemed unfit to watch by Pope John Paul II and caused Pepsi to end financial relations with the star.
Her book Sex, in support of her film Truth or Dare, was a coffee table book that sold millions of copies worldwide but was deemed pornographic due to the nature of the photos. As a result, her next album Erotica sold less than previous albums but was still considered a success. Upon converting to Kabbalah as a religion, she adopted the name Ester and received more criticism as the move was considered sacreligious. Undeterred, the religion is featured in most of her albums since then. Her cover art for the album Rebel Heart also came under fire for featuring some of the world’s most iconic leaders, including Bob Marley and Nelson Mandela. Her adoptions of four African children has also come under fire, with claims that it brought her even more fodder from the international press.
The Material Girl has been romantically linked with several famous men and women throughout her career, briefly dating graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in the early ’80s. She then dated music producer Jellybean Benitez for the next two years, who also produced her debut album and skyrocketed her into fame. After that coupling dissolved, she was next linked to Sean Penn, whom she married in 1985 and divorced in 1989. In 1990, Madonna was linked to Hollywood legend Warren Beatty, with the two appearing in the movie Dick Tracy and becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest May-December romances. Between 1991 and 1996, she dated other stars in the world of entertainment, including model Tony Ward, rapper Vanilla Ice, Dennis Rodman, Michael Jackson, and Carlos Leon, who was the father to her first child, Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon, known as Lola in 1996.
In 2000, Madonna married British director Guy Ritchie and gave birth to a son, Rocco John Ritchie the same year. A few months later and amid much controversy, she adopted Malawian David Banda. Again, in June 2009, she adopted daughter Mercy James from Malawi. In 2009, Madonna became known as a cougar in the press for dating 22-year old Brazilian model Jesus Luz, and then dating 22-year-old French dancer Brahim Zaibat in 2011. And in 2017, and the first time as a single mother, she announced the adoption of two more children from Malawi to bring her brood to six children with 4-year-old girl twins Estere and Stelle.
- Sex by Madonna
- The English Roses by Madonna
- Madonna: An Intimate Biography by J. Randy
Written by: Triston Brewer