Madonna is a pop singer and actress who debuted as a solo artist in 1981 and quickly became a success in the male-dominated 1980s music landscape. By 1991, she had 21 Top 10 songs in the United States and had sold more than 70 million albums worldwide. Forbes magazine ranked her the world’s wealthiest female musician in January 2008.
Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was born on August 16, 1958, in Bay City, Michigan, to parents Silvio “Tony” Ciccone and Madonna Fortin. Tony, the son of Italian immigrants, was the first member of his family to attend college, where he majored in engineering. Madonna’s mother, a professional dancer and x-ray technician, was of French Canadian origin. Tony’s employment as a defense engineer required the pair to relocate to Pontiac, Michigan, after their marriage in 1955.
Madonna was born three years later, during a family visit to Bay City. Madonna, the third of six children, learned early on how to deal with her role as the middle child, saying that she was “the sissy of the family” who frequently used her feminine wiles to get her way.
Madonna’s childhood was shaped by her parents’ staunch adherence to the Catholic faith. Madonna explains, “My mother was a religious zealot.” “There were always priests and nuns in my house when I was a kid.” Several aspects of Catholic iconography, such as her mother’s Sacred Heart sculptures, the nuns’ habits at her Catholic elementary school, and the Catholic altar at which she and her family worshiped daily, formed the subject of Madonna’s most contentious works.
Family Tragedy: Death of Mother
Madonna’s mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer during her pregnancy with Madonna’s youngest sister, had another major impact in her early life. The treatment had to be postponed until the baby reached full term, but by then, the disease had become too powerful. Madonna’s mother died on December 1, 1963, at the age of 30. Madonna was just five years old when her mother died.
Madonna’s adolescence was greatly influenced by her loss. Madonna was resolved to make her own voice heard after being haunted by thoughts of her mother’s infirmity and meek behavior in her final days. “I think not having a mother was the primary reason I was free to express myself and not be frightened,” she adds. “Mothers, for example, teach you proper manners. And I had no idea about any of those rules and restrictions.”
She was particularly vehement in her opposition to the rules enforced by her stepmother, Joan Gustafson, who met Madonna’s father while working as the household domestic. Madonna claims Gustafson frequently forced her to care for the household’s younger children, a chore she despised. “I saw myself as the perfect Cinderella,” Madonna later explained. “I guess that’s when I realized I wanted to try something new and move away from it all.” She defied her conservative upbringing by dressing in exposing attire, frequenting underground gay nightclubs, and rejecting her religious heritage.
Music and Dance: Late 1970s
Madonna matched her domineering nature with a quest for perfection and great success. She was a straight-A student, cheerleader, and diligent dancer who finished a semester ahead of her contemporaries. Her dedication drew the attention of the University of Michigan, which granted her a full scholarship to their dance school in 1976.
Madonna received a six-week scholarship to study with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City during her undergraduate studies at Michigan in 1977, followed by a rare opportunity to dance with choreographer Pearl Lang in 1978. At the advice of her dance instructor, the rising star dropped out of college after only two years to pursue her dance career in New York. Madonna funded her rent in New York by doing odd jobs including nude art modeling, serving at the Russian Tea Room, and dancing at the American Dance Center.
Madonna began dating Dan Gilroy, one of the founding members of the Breakfast Club, a ska-influenced pop-punk band, in 1979. Madonna met the boss of a vaudeville revue in Paris through Gilroy, and she worked as a showgirl in France for a while. She fell in love with the combination of singing and performing during this trip. When she returned to the United States in 1980, she became the drummer for Gilroy’s band and ultimately the lead singer. Over the next few years, Madonna founded various bands of her own, including Madonna & The Sky, The Millionaires, and Emmy.
Rise to Pop Stardom
Madonna chose to go solo in 1981 and engaged Gotham Records manager Camille Barbone to help her get her singing career back on track. Barbone taught Madonna how to navigate the male-dominated music industry and assisted in putting together a studio band that complemented the burgeoning star’s hip style. Madonna’s first hit, “Everyone,” was written by a musician in her band, Stephen Bray, and she exploited her abrasive business acumen to bring the recordings to New York music producer Mark Kamins. Kamins then assisted Madonna in landing a record deal with Sire Records. In 1982, “Everyone” topped the dance charts.
‘Madonna’ Album: ‘Borderline,’ ‘Lucky Star’ and ‘Holiday’
Madonna used the success of the song to persuade Sire Records to produce the full-length album Madonna in 1983. The album had a modest but steady success, with big singles including “Borderline,” “Lucky Star,” and “Holiday.” Girls all over the country were soon replicating Madonna’s signature style, which included fishnet stockings, lacy underwear, fingerless gloves, and big crucifix necklaces. In 1984, “Holiday” gained the singer a spot on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, where she told the presenter that her main goal was “to dominate the world.”
‘Like a Virgin,’ ‘Material Girl’ and ‘Angel’
Her focus and drive were evident in her 1985 follow-up album, Like a Virgin, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Chart and quickly went platinum. The title single, produced by Nile Rodgers, went on to become Madonna’s biggest pop hit of all time, spending six weeks at the top of the charts. She also had two other Top 5 songs off the album: the uplifting “Material Girl” and the dancing tune “Angel.”
‘Crazy for You’
She also appeared in her first popular feature film, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), and performed the soundtrack’s single, “Into the Groove,” which charted at No. 1 in the United States. Her next No. 1 hit was “Crazy for You,” which she performed for the 1985 film Vision Quest. She then embarked on her first music tour, The Virgin Tour, and had 17 straight songs reach the Billboard Top 10 while simultaneously creating a wave of memorable music videos and constantly re-creating her identity.
Movies and More Hit Songs from the 1980s and 1990s
Madonna’s life was a frenzy of activity over the next five years. She married actor Sean Penn on August 16, 1985, and they co-starred in the film Shanghai Surprise (1986). She went on to star in three more films over the next few years, including Who’s That Girl (1987), Bloodhounds of Broadway (1989), and Dick Tracy (1991). (1990). I’m Breathless: Music From and Inspired by the Movies Dick Tracy, Madonna’s soundtrack album, produced two Top 10 hits: “Vogue” and “Hanky Panky.” She also had four additional number-one albums: True Blue (1986), Who’s That Girl (1987), You Can Dance (1987), and Like a Prayer (1988). (1989).
‘Like a Virgin’ MTV Video Music Awards Performance
Madonna, as always, combined her hunger for achievement with her tendency for outrageous behavior. It all started with her infamous 1985 MTV Video Music Awards performance of her hit track “Like a Virgin,” which entailed writhing around suggestively onstage in a bridal gown. Then there was her marriage to Penn, which was tainted by allegations of domestic abuse and his assault on a photographer — behavior that landed him a month in jail and finally led to the couple’s public divorce.
‘Like a Prayer’ Music Video
Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” video debuted on MTV in 1989 as part of a lucrative Pepsi deal. The film included themes of interracial relationships, burning crosses, and a mix of sexual innuendo and religious ideals. As a result of the film, Pope John Paul II advised fans not to attend her concerts in Italy, and Pepsi withdrew their support for the singer.
Despite the public outcry, Madonna’s popularity was at an all-time high. The album Like a Prayer produced a No. 1 title tune as well as other songs such as “Express Yourself,” “Cherish,” “Keep It Together,” and “Oh Father.” By 1991, she had 21 Top 10 songs in the United States and sold more than 70 million records worldwide, grossing $1.2 billion. In order to maintain control over her career, Madonna helped establish Maverick Records, a Warner Music Group subsidiary, in April 1992.
‘Truth or Dare’ Documentary
She also continues to attract attention by challenging social norms. Truth or Dare (1991), a revealing documentary about her Blonde Ambition tour, was the first. Sex (1992), a soft-core pornographic coffee-table book portraying the pop diva in various amorous poses, was released shortly after. Despite its contentious nature, Sex sold 150,000 copies in the United States on its first day of publication. Three days later, the initial edition’s 1.5 million copies were sold out worldwide, making it the most successful coffee table book ever printed.
Erotica (1992) was released at the same time and was equally successful. By the end of 1993, the album had gone double platinum. Bedtime Tales followed, with the funky lead single “Secret” and the sweetly melancholy “Take a Bow” in 1994.
Movies and Music: Late 1990s – Present
‘Evita,’ ‘Immaculate Collection’ and ‘Music’
Madonna had demonstrated her versatility as a film and music artist by 1996. She co-starred with Antonio Banderas in the critically acclaimed 1996 film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Evita. She won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, and her performance in the film, “You Must Love Me,” garnered her an Academy Award for Music, Original Song.
Madonna released her best hits album The Immaculate Collection in 1990, followed by Something to Remember (1995), a collection of her ballads that includes the new song “You’ll See.” Ray of Light, a critically acclaimed album released in 1998, saw her going into electronica and spiritual study with the help of producer William Orbit. Other hits followed, including “Frozen” and “The Power of Good-Bye.” Madonna also received three Grammy nominations, two for the Top 5 title track and one for the Ray of Light album.
Music (2000) followed, another successful electronic effort, this time with more overt, unexpected dance leanings with the majority of production handled by French genius Mirwais. She also continued her collaboration with Orbit, as heard on a handful of Music tracks and the Grammy-winning ode to 1960s psychedelia, “Beautiful Stranger,” which was included on the soundtrack for the film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
The pop diva then transitioned from the big screen to the London West End stage in the play Up for Grabs (2002), and she wrote her first children’s book, The English Roses, which was published in 2003, the same year her album American Life was released. Madonna was inducted into the United Kingdom’s first Music Hall of Fame in 2004, and her next album, Confessions on a Dancefloor, was released the following year. During this time, Madonna surpassed The Beatles’ long-standing record of having the most gold-certified singles in the United States.
Her professional life continued to flourish: Forbes magazine called her the world’s wealthiest female musician in January 2008. Madonna made the most of her money from her H&M clothing line, an agreement with NBC to air performance video, and her Confessions tour, which was the highest-grossing tour ever for a female artist. She also continued to sing, act, and manage a number of business ventures while dividing her time between the UK and the US.
She was the writer and executive producer of I Am Because We Are, a documentary about Malawi’s AIDS orphans, as well as the art-house film Filth and Wisdom, both of which were released in 2008. In April of that year, her album Hard Candy was released, and her Sticky and Sweet tour was her first significant effort with concert promoter Live Nation.
Celebration, her fourth greatest hits album, was published in 2009 and earned Madonna’s twelfth No. 1 album in the United Kingdom. Following the release of the album, Madonna surpassed Elvis Presley as the solo act with the most number one albums in the United Kingdom.
‘W.E.’ Film, Super Bowl XLVI
In 2011, Madonna released W.E., a film about American divorcee Wallis Simpson and her passion with Britain’s King Edward VIII, which contrasted with a more modern connection. When Edward married Simpson, he abdicated his throne, and the couple became known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Madonna co-wrote and directed this love drama, which received a mixed response from critics. She did, however, win a Golden Globe for “Masterpiece,” an original song she co-wrote and sang for the film.
When it was confirmed that Madonna would perform at Super Bowl XLVI in February 2012, she received another lackluster response. Several football fans were outraged when she was announced as part of the halftime entertainment. She did, however, put on an amazing set that included her latest single “Give Me All Your Luvin’.” This time, it wasn’t Madonna who made a splash throughout the show. M.I.A., her musical guest, sparked outrage when she utilized an obscene hand gesture during her live performance.
Madonna’s studio album, MDNA, was released in March 2012. She courted controversy during her tour in favor of the album. While playing in France, Madonna periodically flashed her audience and exploited Nazi iconography. She was arrested after speaking out in support of LGBT rights at a concert in St. Petersburg, Russia. She was sued for more than $10 million for violating a law against the promotion of homosexuality to minors, but the accusations were ultimately dropped.
Tumultuous Road to ‘Rebel Heart’
Throughout 2014, Madonna was rumoured to be working on her next album, with producers such as Avicii and Diplo, as seen on Instagram. However, in December of that year, more than a dozen songs from her 2015 album Rebel Heart were released online. Later, an Israeli singer was arrested and charged with thefts relating to the leak.
To counteract the theft, Madonna published six songs online before Christmas, with the songs reaching the top ten on iTunes rankings in a number of countries. Further uproar erupted in January, when the singer shared doctored photos of notable leaders and artists such as Nelson Mandela and Bob Marley bound by a black chord, echoing the cover art of her next album. Another Rebel Heart album leak occurred in February 2015.
Madonna also performed the lead track “Living for Love” live at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards that month, with a bull and matador theme. More than two weeks later, she sang the song at the Brit Awards, but fell down a small flight of stairs due to a wardrobe error, resulting in whiplash, according to the singer.
Rebel Heart, Madonna’s 13th full-length LP, was released on March 10, 2015, with the deluxe version including 19 tracks. In terms of musical production, the album was considerably more artistically diversified than its predecessors, thematically ranging from passionate sexual provocation and modern bragging to deeper meditation.
After revealing in early 2018 that she was working on new music, the legendary singer revealed in an April 2019 video announcement that studio album No. 14 will be titled Madame X.
“Madame X is a spy,” she adds in the video. “Traveling all over the world. Identity transformation. Struggling for liberty. Bringing light into the dark. She performs as a dancer. A university professor. A state leader. A domestic worker. A horseback rider. A detainee. A college student. She is a mother. A youngster. A professor. A nun. A performer of songs. He is a saint. She’s a whore. The spy in the love house. My name is Madame X.”
Soon later, Madonna released the tune “Medelln,” a collaboration with Colombian singer Maluma, and the two performed the song at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards.
Personal Life and Children
From 1985 to 1989, Madonna was married to actor Sean Penn. Madonna gave birth to her first child, Lourdes Maria (Lola) Ciccone Leon, in 1996, with her lover and personal trainer, Carlos Leon. She married British director Guy Ritchie in 2000 and gave birth to their son, Rocco John Ritchie, the following year. Madonna and Ritchie divorced in 2008.
Madonna experienced new personal issues on the eve of her 50th birthday in 2008. She had spent the previous year fighting claims that she had violated traditional Malawian rules in order to bring her newly adopted son, David Banda, home, whom she had been raising since 2006. Opponents accused Madonna of leveraging her immense riches to expedite the adoption process, which she vehemently rejected. A coalition of 67 local rights organizations appealed the temporary custody judgment on the basis that Malawian law does not permit international adoptions.
The Malawai high court approved Madonna’s bid to permanently adopt the boy on May 28, 2008, according to the pop star’s lawyer. “It’s a lovely and great decision,” Alan Chinula told reporters. “Finally, the court has granted Madonna complete custody of the boy. Thank God, it’s all over.” She opted to adopt from Malawai once more, and in June 2009, she was granted custody of Mercy James following yet another court fight.
Madonna announced on her Instagram account in February 2017 that she has adopted 4-year-old twins Estere and Stelle from Malawi.
Madonna attempted to stop the auction of many of her personal possessions, which were then in the ownership of her ex-personal assistant Darlene Lutz, in 2017. But, because the singer had already signed a release from “any and all” future claims against her former friend and staff, a judge concluded that the disputed auction may take place the following year.
The list of personal items included panties and a hairbrush, but the most notable item was a break-up letter from former boyfriend Tupac Shakur. In the letter, the rapper shares his concerns that, while dating a Black man certainly boosted her reputation for being “exciting,” being involved with a white woman only stood to harm him. “I had no intention of hurting you,” he writes. “Please keep in mind that my former position was that of a young man with little experience with an incredibly famous sex symbol.”
Madonna made headlines again in August 2018 as she paid tribute to the recently deceased Aretha Franklin at the MTV Video Music Awards. After saying that Franklin “changed the direction of my life,” Madonna embarked into a lengthy sidebar about her own early music career, raising eyebrows among those who questioned why she was using the homage to talk about herself.