Madonna Biography

Madonna Louise Ciccone, 16 August 1958, Bay City, Michigan, USA. An icon for female pop stars thanks to her proven ability to reinvent herself while retaining complete control of her career, Madonna is also one of the most commercially successful artists in the history of popular music. Without doubt an artist with ‘star quality’, no other female singer in the pop arena has been as prominent or as successful over such a long period.

The young Madonna Louise Ciccone excelled at dance and drama at high school and during brief periods at colleges in Michigan and North Carolina. In 1977, she went to New York, studying with noted choreographer Alvin Ailey and taking modelling jobs. Two years later, Madonna moved to France to join a show featuring disco singer Patrick Hernandez. There she met Dan Gilroy and, back in New York, the pair formed club band the Breakfast Club. Madonna played drums and sang with the band before setting up Emmy in 1980 with Detroit-born drummer and former boyfriend, Steve Bray. Together, Madonna and Bray created club tracks that led to a recording contract with Sire Records. With leading New York disc jockey Mark Kamins producing, she recorded ‘Everybody’, a US club hit in 1982. Madonna broke out from the disco scene into mainstream pop with ‘Holiday’, written and produced by Jellybean. It reached the US Top 20 in late 1983 and was a Top 10 hit across Europe the following year.

By now, her tough, raunchy persona was coming across to international audiences and the attitude was underlined by the choice of Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg’s catchy ‘Like A Virgin’ as a 1984 single. The track provided the singer with the first of her subsequent 11 US number 1s. The follow-up, ‘Material Girl’, included a promotional video which introduced one of Madonna’s most characteristic visual styles, the mimicking of Marilyn Monroe’s ‘blonde bombshell’ image. By the time of her appearance at 1985’s Live Aid concert and her high-profile wedding to actor Sean Penn on 16 August the same year, Madonna had become an internationally recognized superstar, known to millions of tabloid newspaper readers without any interest in her music. Among the fans of her work were a growing number of ‘wannabees’, teenage girls who aped her independent and don’t-care stance.

From 1985-87, Madonna turned out a stream of irresistibly catchy transatlantic Top 5 singles. ‘Crazy For You’, her second US chart-topper, was co-written by ex-Carpenters collaborator John Bettis, while she co-wrote her first UK number 1, ‘Into The Groove’, with Steve Bray. These were followed by ‘Dress You Up’, ‘Live To Tell’, and the transatlantic chart-topper, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’. ‘True Blue’, ‘Open Your Heart’ and ‘La Isla Bonita’ were further successes taken from 1986’s True Blue. Like an increasing number of her songs, ‘Who’s That Girl’ (her second transatlantic number 1) and ‘Causing A Commotion’ were tied-in to a movie - in this instance, a poorly received comedy in which she starred with Sir John Mills. Madonna’s film career had begun with a minor role in the b-movie A Certain Sacrifice before she starred in the acclaimed Desperately Seeking Susan. The following year she appeared with husband Penn in her first real failure, Shanghai Surprise. She separated from Penn in 1988, the same year she appeared on Broadway in David Mamet’s play Speed The Plow. Back on the music scene, the singer continued to attract controversy when, in 1989, the video for ‘Like A Prayer’ (her third transatlantic chart-topper), with its links between religion and eroticism, was condemned by the Vatican and caused Pepsi-Cola to cancel a sponsorship deal with the star. The resulting publicity helped the album of the same title - co-produced with new collaborator Patrick Leonard - to become a global bestseller.

In 1990, her career reached a new peak of publicity and commercial success. She starred with Warren Beatty in the blockbuster movie Dick Tracy, while the extravagant costumes and choreography of the Blond Ambition world tour were the apotheosis of Madonna’s uninhibited melange of sexuality, song, dance and religiosity. The tour was commemorated by the following year’s documentary movie, Truth Or Dare. Among her hits of the early 90s were the transatlantic number 1 ‘Vogue’, devoted to a short-lived dance craze, ‘Hanky Panky’, ‘Justify My Love’ (co-written with Lenny Kravitz), ‘Rescue Me’, and ‘This Used To Be My Playground’ (from the soundtrack of A League Of Their Own).

Madonna’s reputation as a strong businesswoman, in control of each aspect of her career, was confirmed in 1992 when she signed a multi-million dollar deal with the Time-Warner conglomerate, parent company of Sire. This guaranteed the release of albums, films and books created by her Maverick production company. The publication of her graphic and erotic book Sex put her back on top of the charts, though this time it was in the bestselling book lists. The book was an unprecedented success, selling out within hours and needing an immediate reprint. The attendant Erotica marked a slight creative downturn, and was her first album since her debut not to generate a US number 1 single. She returned to form on Bedtime Stories, on which she teamed up with Soul II Soul producer Nellee Hooper, who wrote the title track in conjunction with Björk. ‘Take A Bow’ returned the singer to the top of the US singles chart, while the rest of the album boasted songs that combined, by her own description, pop, R&B, hip-hop and Madonna. The 1995 compilation of her slower material, Something To Remember, featured the excellent new song, ‘You’ll See’.

In 1996, Madonna’s need to shock had mellowed considerably with a credible movie portrayal of Eva Peron in Alan Parker’s Evita. Later that year she became ‘with child’ on 14 October with the birth of Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon. She returned to music with March 1998’s Ray Of Light, one of her finest recordings to date. Collaborating with producer William Orbit, Madonna positively revelled in a new-found musical freedom. Her voice had also matured into a rich and expressive instrument. The album generated several transatlantic hit singles, including ‘Frozen’ (a UK chart-topper), ‘Ray Of Light’, ‘Drowned World (Substitute For Love)’, ‘The Power Of Good-bye’, and ‘Nothing Really Matters’. ‘Beautiful Stranger’, taken from the soundtrack to the Mike Myers’ movie Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, reached number 2 in the UK charts in June 1999. Another soundtrack, for the movie The Next Best Thing, co-written and co-produced by Madonna and Orbit, was released on the singer’s Maverick label. It featured her new single, a reworking of Don McLean’s classic ‘American Pie’.

Madonna worked with Orbit and French dance producer Mirwais on her next collection, Music, the title track of which was a transatlantic chart-topper in September 2000. Shortly before the release of the album, on 11 August, the singer gave birth to her second child, Rocco. On 22 December, she married the UK film director Guy Ritchie in Scotland and managed once again to grab most of the newspaper headlines. She went on to collaborate with Ritchie on the controversial video for ‘What It Feels Like For A Girl’, and in 2002 starred in the director’s ill-fated remake of Swept Away. The same year Madonna performed the theme song to the new James Bond movie, Die Another Day. The following year she released her new studio album, American Life; although the set topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, it performed markedly less well than expected and was roundly savaged by the critics.

In June 2004, Madonna announced she was selling her stake in her record label Maverick to its parent company Warner Music Group. She then began work with Stuart Price aka Les Rythmes Digitales, the musical director on her last two world tours, on her new studio album. Released in November 2005, Confessions On A Dance Floor was trumpeted as a return to the singer’s club roots. The album’s first single ‘Hung Up’ was built around a hypnotic sample of Abba’s ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)’ and returned the singer to the top of the UK charts.

In October 2007, Madonna announced a $120 million contract with Live Nation Inc., covering album releases, videos and films, concert tours, merchandising, and media projects. The following March, she was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Hard Candy, the singer’s final studio album for Warners, was released at the end of the following month. The album featured hot-shot producers such as Timbaland, the Neptunes and Danja, lending the majority of the tracks a contemporary urban slant. As with many of Madonna’s bolder experiments, some tracks worked and others sounded laboured, although there was no denying the bite of her chart-topping collaboration with Justin Timberlake on ‘4 Minutes’.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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