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M  A  D  O  N  N  A

 


Born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, August 16, 1958, Bay City, Michigan

Madonna is the most media-savvy American pop star since Bob Dylan and the most consistently controversial since Elvis Presley. In the minds of her supporters, her sassy approach to dance music and in-your-face videos gave feminism a much-needed makeover throughout the Eighties, smashing sexual boundaries, redefining the nature of eroticism, and challenging social and religious mores. To her detractors, she merely reinforced the notion of "woman as plaything," turning the clock back on conventional feminism two decades. One thing is rarely disputed: At nearly every turn, she has maintained firm control over her career and image.

Born in Bay City, Michigan, Madonna Ciccone was one of six children. Her mother died when Madonna was six, leaving her father, a Chrysler/General Dynamics engineer, to raise the family. She began studying dance at 14 and, after graduating high school in 1976, continued her dance studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She moved to New York City in 1978, where she studied briefly with the Alvin Ailey dance troupe.

Her first crack at pop music came when a boyfriend let her sing and play drums in his band the Breakfast Club. While in the band, she landed a brief job as backup singer and dancer with disco star Patrick ("Born to Be Alive") Hernandez. In 1981 she quit the Breakfast Club and started writing songs with a former boyfriend from her college years, Steven Bray. The two gained attention in the trendy New York club Danceteria, where the DJ, Mark Kamins, played her tapes; it was Kamins who took Madonnaís demo to Sire Records and produced her first club hit, 1982ís "Everybody." After a 12-inch single, "Burning Up" b/w "Physical Attraction," hit #3 on the dance charts in early 1983, she began recording her first album with the high-profile DJ John "Jellybean" Benitez [see Jellybean entry[, with whom she became romantically involved. A few months later Sire released her self-titled debut, which peaked at #8. It spawned "Holiday," a single that crossed over from nightclubs to radio, eventually topping out at #16 on the pop charts by the following year.

Madonna enlisted manager Freddie DeMann, who had guided Michael Jackson from the Jacksonsí late-Seventies slump through Thriller. DeMann soon had Madonna making history with a couple of titillating videos. In March 1984 "Borderline" (#10), with its video celebrating interracial love, was released; it was followed by "Lucky Star" (#4), whose video offered provocative glimpses of the starís navel. Public opinion was and would remain split. Most critics initially dismissed Madonna as a prefab disco prima donna offering style over substance; a few, however, saw something different and hailed her as a strong new female voice, BOY TOY belt and all.

In late 1984 the Nile Rodgers-produced Like a Virgin, with its #1 title song, shot to the Top Ten upon its release; it eventually sold more than seven million copies. Doubtless inspired by her undisputable videogenic presence, DeMann had negotiated movie deals for Madonna (before her stardom, she had already acted in the lowbudget indie film A Certain Sacrifice), landing her a small part as a nightclub singer in Vision Quest and the title role in Desperately Seeking Susan. Throughout 1985 Madonna was ubiquitous, appearing in both movies, with hit songs on three albums. By March "Crazy for You" (#1), from the Vision Quest soundtrack, and "Material Girl" (#2), from Like a Virgin, were in the Top Five simultaneously. Her other hits were Virginís "Angel" (#5) and "Dress You Up" (#5), and the club smash "Into the Groove," from the Susan soundtrack. Her Virgin Tour was the hot ticket during the first half of the year.

In 1985 Madonna married actor Sean Penn, with whom she appeared in the critical and commercial flop Shanghai Surprise. Then she hit the pop world with a musical left hook: "Papa Donít Preach" (#1), the initial single from True Blue (#1), drew criticism with its message that young unwed women should keep their babies. As the lyrical content of Madonnaís songs deepened, critical acceptance of her began to grow. Her subsequent 1986 hits were "True Blue" (#3) and "Open Your Heart" (#1), followed in 1987 by "La Isla Bonita" (#4). Another ill-advised acting venture, 1987ís Whoís That Girl; was tied into an album of the same name, which included the hit title song (#1) and "Causing a Commotion" (#2). Madonna took time off the following year to split with Penn and appear in David Mametís Broadway production, Speed-the-Plow.

She returned to music in 1989 with Like a Prayer, and the title songís video -- complete with burning crosses and an eroticized black Jesus -- launched Madonnaís biggest and costliest controversy yet. Released in March, it was censured by the Vatican and the public response prompted Pepsi to cancel the singerís lucrative endorsement deal. The ordeal made Madonna a worldwide phenomenon. Like a Prayer spawned four other Top Twenty hits: "Express Yourself" (#2), "Cherish" (#2), "Oh Father" (#20), and "Keep It Together" (#8).

Madonna hit her megastar stride in 1990 when she appeared as Breathless Mahoney with then-boyfriend Warren Beatty in Dick Tracy; its soundtrack, Iím Breathless, bore hits in "Hanky Panky" (#10) and the nonmovie song "Vogue" (#1), which honored and revived the popular gay dance craze. In 1991 she scored hits with "Rescue Me" (#9) and "Justify My Love" (#1); the video for the latter fanned the flames of controversy yet again. She then oversaw the film Truth or Dare, a documentary of her Blond Ambition Tour dressed up to look like D. A. Pennebakerís Dylan movie, Don Ďt Look Back. Madonna also became one of the first pop stars to speak out about AIDS and help raise money for research.

The singer affirmed her business acumen in 1992 when she signed a multimillion-dollar deal with Time Warner, guaranteeing release of all albums, films, and books under her Maverick production corporation. Her first Maverick project was a highly controversial 128-page coffee-table photo book, Sex, which had Madonna posing nude and wearing S&M gear. Sex was followed by the album Erotica, which peaked at #2 and produced Top Five hits in 1992: the title track and "Deeper and Deeper." "Bad Girl" and "Rain" were both Top Forty hits in 1993. By then Maverick was releasing work by other artists, including hip-hop chanteuse MeShell NdegeOcello, and Madonna embarked on her worldwide Girlie Show Tour, which drew a mixed critical reaction. An appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman returned Madonna to the headlines in spring 1994, when, using an abundance of profanities, she engaged in a verbal sparring match with the comedian. She also returned to the pop chart that year with the #2 single "Iíll Remember," from the 1994 film With Honors. Her late 1994 album, Bedtime Stories (#3), presented a fairly traditional R&B sound and yielded the hit singles "Secret" (#4,1994) and "Take a Bow" (#1, 1995).

1983 -- Madonna (Sire)
1984 -- Like a Virgin
1986 -- True Blue
1987 -- Whoís That Girl; You Can Dance
1989 -- Like a Prayer
1990 -- Iím Breathless; The Immaculate Collection
1992 -- Erotica (Maverick)
1994 -- Bedtime Stories


 


 

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