The Guinness Book of Records
credited Madonna as the most successful female recording artist of all time,
with estimated worldwide sales of 120 million albums. Her record label, Warner Bros. Records.reported in 2005 that she
had achieved international sales in excess of 200 million albums.
Ciccone was born in Bay City, Michigan. She is the third of six children born to Silvio
"Tony" P. Ciccone, a Chrysler engineer of Italian
American extraction, whose parents originated from Pacentro, in
the region of Abruzzo,
Italy, and Madonna
Louise Fortin, a French Canadian. She was raised in a Catholic
family in the Detroit
suburbs of Pontiac and Rochester Hills. Madonna's mother died of
cancer at age thirty on December 1, 1963, and Madonna has frequently discussed the impact her
mother's death had on her life and career, calling it "one of the hardest
things I've faced in my life." Her father later married the family
housekeeper, Joan Gustafson, and they had two children.
Ciccone required his children to take music lessons; however, after a few
months of piano
lessons, Madonna convinced him to allow her to take ballet classes
instead. Madonna's ballet teacher, Christopher Flynn, mentored her in dance and
provided Madonna with her first exposure to gay discotheques, a scene that
would later have an impact on her music and style. She attended RochesterAdamsHigh School,
where she was a straight-A student, excelled at sports, and was a member of the
squad. After graduating high school in 1976, she received a dance scholarship
to the University of Michigan. In 1977, with
Flynn's encouragement, Madonna left college at the end of her second year and
moved to New York City in July 1978 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'd 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.»
experienced financial difficulties, and for some time lived in squalor and
worked a series of low-paying jobs, including a stint at Dunkin'
Donuts. She also worked as a nude model on occasion. She studied with Martha
Graham and Pearl Lang, and later performed with several modern
dance companies, including Alvin Ailey
and the Walter
Nicks dancers. While performing as a dancer for the French disco
artist, Patrick Hernandez, on his 1979 world tour,
Madonna met and became romantically involved with the musician Dan Gilroy, with
whom she later formed her first rock band, the Breakfast Club, in New York. In addition to
providing vocals, she played drums and guitar, before forming the band Emmy in
1980 with drummer and former boyfriend Stephen
Bray. She and Bray wrote and produced a number of solo disco and dance
songs that brought her local attention in New York dance clubs. D.J.
and record producer Mark Kamins was sufficiently impressed by her demo
recordings to bring them to the attention of Sire
Records founder Seymour Stein.
Beginning and rise to fame
Madonna in her first music video for "Everybody," a low-budget video that featured
Madonna and her dancers in a rather dark New
1980, Madonna signed a singles deal with Sire
Records in the United States that paid her $5,000 per song. Her
first release, "Everybody," a self-written song produced by
Mark Kamins, became a dance hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot
Dance/Club Chart, but failed to make an impact on the Billboard
Hot 100. It also gained airplay on U.S. R&B radio stations, leading
many to assume that Madonna was a black artist. The double-sided 12" vinyl
single featuring "Burning Up" and "Physical Attraction"
followed in late 1982, and was a success on the U.S. dance charts. These results
convinced Sire Records executives to finance a full-length album.
Her debut albumMadonna (1983), a collection of dance
songs, was primarily produced by Reggie
Lucas, but early in the recording process both realized that they could not
work well together. After initial production on the album was completed,
Madonna took the finished but unsatisfactory album to her then-boyfriend, John "Jellybean" Benitez,
who remixed and rearranged it. It reached number eight on the U.S. albums chart and contained five successful
singles, including her first world-wide hit, "Holiday", and has since been certified
5x platinum with world sales in excess of twelve million copies. According to
Australian music guru Ian "Molly" Meldrum, it was Australia who gave Madonna her first hit for the
song "Holiday" on Meldrum's hugely
popular show "Countdown." Madonna became popular with teenagers due
to her sexy appearance, and it wasn't long before teenage girls, who were known
as "wannabes", were dressing up as her.
follow up album, Like a Virgin (1984), was an international
success, and became her first number one album on the U.S. albums chart.
Buoyed by the success of its title track, which reached number one across
the world, including a six week stay at the top of the Billboard Hot 100
Singles Chart, the album has sold nineteen million copies worldwide. and
produced four top-five singles in the U.S.
and the UK.
Her performance of the song at the first MTV Video Music Awards, during which she
writhed on the stage (on top of a wedding cake) wearing a combination
bustier/wedding gown, lacy stockings and garters and her then-trademark
"Boy Toy" belt, was the first of several public displays that boosted
Madonna's fan base as much as they incensed some critics, who felt that her
provocative style attempted to disguise an absence of talent.
1985, Madonna entered mainstream films, beginning with a brief appearance as a
club singer in the film Vision Quest. The soundtrack to the film contained
her second number one pop hit, the Grammy-nominated
ballad "Crazy for You." Later that year she
appeared in the commercially and critically successful film Desperately Seeking Susan, with her
comedic performance winning her positive reviews. The film introduced the dance
song "Into the Groove", which was released as a B-side to her
single "Angel", peaking at number five in the U.S. In Europe,
"Into the Groove" became a major hit and her first U.K.
July 1985, Penthouse and Playboy magazines published a number of
black and white nude photos of Madonna taken in the late 1970s. The
publications caused a swell of publicity and public discussion of Madonna, who
remained unapologetic and defiant. Speaking to a global audience at the Live Aid
charity concert at the height of the controversy, Madonna made a critical
reference to the media and vowed that, for her performance, she would not give
her critics the satisfaction of taking off her jacket, despite the sweltering
1986 album True Blue presented a more musically and
thematically mature album than its predecessors, prompting Rolling
Stone to declare, 'singing better than ever, Madonna stakes her claim
as the pop poet of lower-middle-class America.' The album included the soulful
ballad "Live To Tell", which she wrote for the film At
Close Range, starring then-husband Sean Penn.
The album was also the first to credit her as producer. She collaborated with
composer Patrick Leonard, who would become a long-time
collaborator and friend. True Blue reached #1 in thirty-eight countries,
and sold over 40 million copies worldwide, becoming her most successful studio album
internationally,and produced five
successful singles, including three #1 entries in the United States.
music videos for the album True Blue displayed Madonna's continued
interest in pushing the boundaries of the video medium to a cinematic level,
including elaborate art direction, cinematography
and film devices such as character and plot. Though Madonna had already made
videos expressing her sexuality, she added religious iconography, gender
archetypes and social issues to her oeuvre, and these concepts would
carry through her work for years to come. One notable example was the "Open Your Heart" video, her
first collaboration with French photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino.
1987, Madonna starred in the modestly successful film Who's That Girl?, and contributed four songs
to its soundtrack, including the film's title track, which became an international
hit and Madonna's sixth #1 single in the US.
1987, the star embarked on the successful Who's That Girl World Tour, 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 tour. It also marked her first run-in with the Vatican, with
the Pope urging fans not to attend her performances
in Italy. The Vatican later expressed outrage at the unveiling
of a racy 13-foot tall statue of Madonna, in the Italian town of Pacentro.
that year, Madonna released a remix album, You Can
Dance, which included one new track, "Spotlight". Although the album did not reach
the Top 10, it was certified platinum in the US.
fourth album, 1989's Like a Prayer, presented more reflective and
personal lyrics and a more mature vocal style. Co-written and co-produced with Patrick
Leonard and Stephen Bray, it settled her as a serious pop artist.
Most of the songs were recorded with all the musicians playing in the same
room, which gave the album the straightforwardness and sincerity of a live
recording. She teamed up with Prince on a duet, who also lent his talent as a
guitarist on two songs. Like a Prayer garnered Madonna the strongest
reviews of her career and attracted a more mature audience. All
Music Guide described the album as 'her best and most consistent',
while Rolling Stone stated that the album is 'proof not only that
Madonna should be taken seriously as an artist but that hers is one of the most
compelling voices of the Eighties'. Like a Prayer produced five singles,
including the #1 "title track" and "So much
early 1989, Madonna signed an endorsement deal with soft drink manufacturer Pepsi, which would
debut her new song "Like a Prayer" in a Pepsi commercial that Madonna
herself would also appear in. The commercial used a child's birthday party as a
plot device, and was not controversial in itself; however, the following day,
the music video for the song premiered on MTV. It featured many Catholic
symbols, including stigmata, and was condemned by the Vatican for its
mixture of Catholic symbolism and eroticism. It depicted a black man, who comes
to the aid of woman being murdered, arrested for the crime and jailed, until
Madonna, who has witnessed the crime, secures his release. Although the video
Madonna was criticized for her use of symbols such as burning crosses. The
public linked the commercial with the music video, and although they were different,
Pepsi was subsequently bombarded with complaints and threats of boycotts; Pepsi
withdrew the commercial from broadcasting, but Madonna was allowed to keep her
five million dollar fee, as Pepsi had voided their contract. Sales for the
album increased during the ensuing publicity, and it reached #1 on the US albums
chart, ultimately being certified 4x platinum.
In 1990, Madonna
starred as Breathless Mahoney in a film adaptation of the popular comic book
series Dick Tracy. To accompany the launching of the
film, as well as to provide more material for her upcoming Blonde Ambition Tour, she released I'm
Breathless, a novelty album, with songs inspired by the film's 1930s
setting. It featured the #1 dance-floor anthem "Vogue"
(which was a hommage to the Hollywood stars), the Gershwin-esque "Something To Remember", and three songs
by Stephen Sondheim (among them, "Sooner or
Later (I Always Get My Man)", which won an Academy
Award for 'Best Original Song'. I'm Breathless was a success in
Europe, Australia and the United States,
where it was certified 2x platinum.
Sex controversy and Evita
The controversial music video for "Erotica"
(1992) was aired only three times on MTV due to its highly charged sexual content.
1992, Madonna released the erotic book Sex,
photographed by long time collaborator Steven
Meisel. Adult in nature, it featured strong sexual content and graphic
photographs featuring Madonna depicting simulations of sexual acts and BDSM. The book caused
huge publicity at the time of its release, primarily leading to bad press and
negative attitudes towards Madonna. Many critics considered it another
calculated controversy timed to boost sales of her new album, which the public
linked together because of their generally close release dates and overt sexual
Erotica (1992), produced primarily with Shep
Pettibone, was disregarded as simply being a 'porn' album, with most people
believing that all the album tracks were about sex, but in truth the album only
featured 3 (out of 14) overtly sexual songs: 'Erotica', 'Where Life Begins' and
'Did You Do It?'. The album peaked at number two in the U.S. and produced six
singles, with its most successful being its title track "Erotica,"
which became the highest-debuting (number two) single in the history of the
U.S. Hot 100 Airplay chart. The controversial music
video that accompanied the song only aired three times on MTV due to its highly
charged sexual content.
1993 The Girlie Show Tour was her most explicit and
controversial concert tour to date and featured Madonna dressed as a
whip-cracking dominatrix, surrounded by topless dancers including Luca
Tomassini and Carrie Ann Inaba. The controversy caused by the
tour followed Madonna when she caused uproar in Puerto Rico
by rubbing the island's flag between her legs on stage, while Orthodox
Jews protested against her first-ever show in Israel. Madonna
would later comment that this 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.
Return to commercial prominence
"Ray of Light" (1998), directed by Jonas
Akerlund, featured a high-speed video, showing ordinary people performing
their daily routines.
seventh album, Ray of Light (1998), blended her personal and
introspective lyrics with Eastern sounds, down-tempo, electronic
instrumentation, strings by Craig
Armstrong and a strong rave flavor. The album reached number two on the U.S. albums
chart and since its release has been certified 4x platinum. It earned Madonna
the strongest reviews of her career since Like a Prayer and has been
widely considered by critics to be one of her greatest artistic achievements. Amazon.com
described the album as "her richest, most accomplished record yet",
while Rolling Stone credited Madonna and her co-producer William
Orbit for "creating the first mainstream pop album that successfully
embraces techno," stating that musically Ray of Light is her
"most adventurous record" yet. Ray of Light produced five
singles, including the European number one "Frozen".
The album won four awards at the 1999 Grammy Awards and has been ranked #363 on
Rolling Stone's list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Madonna followed the
success of Ray of Light with the top-ten single "Beautiful Stranger," a late 60's psyche-pop
song she wrote with William Orbit and recorded for the Austin Powers: The Spy Who
Shagged Me soundtrack (1999).
Commercial ups and downs
The original video for American
Life (2003) was widely seen as controversial and was revoked on the day
of its release due to its graphic images and antiwar message.
ninth studio album, American Life (2003), in which her lyrics were
themed on the aspects of the American dream, fame, fortune and society,
polarized music critics with both extremely positive and extremely negative
reviews. Arguably her most daring and musically extreme album, American Life
presented a darker and more serious side of the singer. Once again, she teamed
up with Mirwais
with string arrangement contributed by French musician, Michel
Colombier, who had already collaborated on Music, a gospel choir,
and prominent acoustic guitars. The music video for the first single, "American Life" caused controversy in the US, as it
contained visceral scenes depicting war, explosions, and blood. The day before
the video was to air on European television, Madonna pulled it and released
instead an edited and much tamer version, which showed her singing in front of
flags from around the world. The song failed to perform well on the U.S. singles
charts, peaking at thirty-seven. Having sold just 4 million copies, American
Life is the lowest selling album of her career. However, the album did peak
at number one on the U.S.
albums chart and became her second consecutive album to do so. American Life
produced three more singles, which all failed to chart in the U.S., although
they became modest hits around the world.
that year, Madonna performed a re-mixed version of her song "Hollywood", which was arranged by Stuart
Price aka "Thin White Duke" (whom she later would work with again for
her Confessions album) with Britney
Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Missy
Elliot at the MTV Video Music Awards. The performance caused
controversy as Madonna kissed both Spears and Aguilera during the
performance, and resulted in tabloid press frenzy. That fall, Madonna provided
guest vocals on Spears' single "Me Against the Music", which became a
dance hit in the U.S.
In an effort to boost sales of American Life, Madonna released Remixed & Revisited, a remix EP
that included remixes and some interesting rock versions of songs from American
Life as well as "Your Honesty", a previously unreleased song from
the Bedtime Stories era. The EP did not perform
well on the charts and peaked outside the top 100 on the US albums
chart. A lesser-known aspect of the American Life era is that Madonna
worked with fashion photographer Steven Klein in what was to become a photo and
video installation entitled X-static Process that would tour in major
art galleries around the world. These images were to be used for her Re-Invention
2004, Madonna embarked on The Re-Invention Tour, which featured
fifty-six dates in the US, Canada, and Europe
and became the highest-grossing tour of 2004, earning $125 million. Also in
2004, Madonna was involved in a brief legal battle with Warner Music Group, with whom she co-owned
record label Maverick. The legal dispute ended with Warner
Music Group buying Madonna's shares in the record label. In January 2005,
Madonna performed a cover version of the John Lennon
song Imagine on the televised U.S. aid concert "Tsunami
Aid: A Concert of Hope", which raised money for the tsunami victims in Asia.
August 16, 2005, her 47th birthday, Madonna was seriously injured after falling
off a horse at Ashcombe House, her Wiltshire home. She suffered three cracked
ribs, a broken collarbone, and a broken hand from her fall. Following her
accident she filmed the video to her first single, "Hung Up," from
her upcoming album "Confessions on a Dance Floor." At the time of
filming the high-energy dance video, none of the broken bones had fully healed
yet, and she relied heavily on painkillers to complete the video shoot.