Born Madonna Louise Ciccone (pronounced "Chick-one") on August 16, 1958, in Bay City, MI; daughter of Silvio (an engineer) and Madonna (Fortin) Ciccone; married Sean Penn (an actor), 1985; divorced, 1989; married Guy Ritchie (a film director), 2000; children: (with Carlos Leon) Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon, (with Guy Ritchie) Rocco Ritchie. Education: Attended University of Michigan for two years; studied dance in New York City with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and with Pearl Lang. Addresses: Record company--Maverick Records, 8000 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, website: Website--Madonna Official Website:

The career of pop music superstar Madonna has lasted longer than most of her detractors ever predicted. She has become a kind of modern-day, multimedia ueber-celebrity who dabbles in film, theater projects, and the occasional publishing venture in addition to her recording endeavors. But Madonna's most impressive feat may be her ability to sell millions of records around the world regardless of what the music press says about her.

Madonna was born Madonna Louise Ciccone on August 16, 1958, in Bay City, Michigan. The "Veronica" that is commonly cited as one of her birth names is really her confirmation name, chosen for the religious ceremony when she was in her early teens. Her family--Madonna is the third of eight children--was living in Pontiac, Michigan, at the time of her birth, but they were visiting relatives in Bay City when her then-very-pregnant mother went into labor. Tragically, Mrs. Ciccone died of cancer when Madonna and her siblings were quite young. The children lived for a while with various relatives until her father settled down in Rochester Hills, a suburb of Detroit, and reunited the family. Madonna's father, an engineer by profession, eventually married the family's housekeeper.

Interested in dance from an early age, Madonna studied with local instructors as a teenager. In high school, she was an honor roll student and a cheerleader. She graduated early and attended the University of Michigan for two years, continuing her dance training, then dropped out and moved to New York City in the late 1970s. There she attempted to get her foot in the show business door. While working in a series of low-wage jobs--including a stint as an artist's model--she took more dance classes and eventually won a spot in the third company of Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theater. Next, Madonna hooked up with disco performer Patrick Hernandez. She moved with him to Paris for a short time but then returned to New York City and became a part of the burgeoning music scene that was combining post-punk-rock shock with the quick-tempoed beats left over from the disco era. She played drums and sang for a number of New York-based ensembles, including Emmy, the Millionaires, and the Breakfast Club.

Around 1981 Madonna teamed up with boyfriend Steve Bray to form her own band, simply called Madonna. It was also around this time that she first picked up a guitar and started writing songs herself. Playing in New York City clubs, Madonna soon garnered attention with her new act. She found herself a respected manager and began leaning toward a more funky, R&B-tinged sound, which went over well in the dance clubs she played. New York club disc jockey Mark Kamins, who had extensive contacts in the music business, helped win her a recording contract with Warner Bros. in 1982.

Released Debut Album

The contract with Warner Bros. led to the release of Madonna's self-titled debut album in 1983; cuts from Madonna slowly became underground dance club hits. When the first single, "Holiday," got extensive airplay, many listeners were surprised to find that the voice belonged to a white woman. Stardom quickly followed when the singles "Borderline" and "Lucky Star" began climbing the charts. By early 1985 Madonna had become a household name, but her second album, Like a Virgin, did even more for her budding career. The record quickly went platinum, buoyed by the hits "Material Girl," "Into the Groove," and the title track. At one point, two singles from Like a Virgin were in the top five at the same time, and it seemed Madonna was now turning up everywhere in the media. She launched her first tour in the spring of 1985, initially in small venues, but as the shows began selling out in less than an hour, the dates were switched into larger arenas. That spring also saw the release of Desperately Seeking Susan, a movie she made in 1984 when she was still relatively unknown. The low-budget film, directed by Susan Seidelman, became a commercial hit.

Early in her career, Madonna was already becoming an accomplished songwriter; Like a Virgin included five cuts that she wrote herself. Her next effort, the 1986 release True Blue, was another success, best remembered for the "Papa Don't Preach" dilemma-of-teen-pregnancy track. Shortly thereafter, in 1987, Madonna landed another major film role in Who's That Girl?, a light comedy that was panned by critics. An uneven soundtrack album accompanied the film, followed the next year by You Can Dance, a series of remixes of her best-known hits.

By this time, Madonna's personal life was attracting about the same amount of attention as her music and film performances. In 1985 she married actor Sean Penn to much media hoopla, and the ups and downs of their marriage were well-chronicled by the press. By early 1989 the marriage was on the rocks, divorce papers had been filed, and her next full-length studio album, Like a Prayer, was released. Like a Prayer was especially notable for the racy videos to both the title cut and another track titled "Express Yourself." Prior to its release, Madonna inked a $5 million deal with Pepsi for some commercials and sponsorship of an upcoming tour, but the religious symbolism in the "Like a Prayer" video made the cola giant wary; the company canceled the deal, although the increasingly savvy businesswoman kept the money.

During the late 1980s, Madonna took intermittent breaks from her music to work in film and theater. Her role opposite Warren Beatty in 1990's Dick Tracy garnered major media attention as much for her performance as for her off-camera relationship with the film's star. The Trouser Press Record Guide panned I'm Breathless, the album that was released in conjunction with the movie, calling its best-known single, "Vogue," "just an empty shell of a song, style sans substance."

Remained Embroiled in Controversy

Yet the "Vogue" single was another example of Madonna's ability to capitalize on a still-underground pop culture phenomenon. "Vogueing" had been a flourishing dance trend on the New York gay discotheque scene for a number of years, where men--sometimes dressed as women--posed and strutted to a high-energy beat. Her next album, The Immaculate Collection, was also released in 1990, but it was mainly an assemblage of her biggest hits to date, including "Vogue." Late in 1990 Madonna became embroiled in yet another controversy, this time surrounding the video to "Justify My Love," the only new track on The Immaculate Collection. The steamy images of slightly sado-masochistic situations and multiple partnerships, shot with Madonna's then-boyfriend Tony Ward, provoked MTV to initially ban it from airplay. Madonna also blended her interest in film and music in the concert documentary Truth or Dare, which was shot during her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990.

Madonna's out-there sexuality, which seemed to unnerve most of her critics, was further explored in her first book, a hefty volume titled Sex. The 1992 tome contains racy images shot by fashion photographer Steven Meisel, along with intermittent text of Madonna's musings on sex and love written under the name of her alter ego, Dita Parlo. The $50 book was released to much fanfare, especially when some of the photographs appeared in the media prior to publication--leaked or perhaps sold by insiders.

Madonna reportedly received an advance of $5.5 million for the Sex book from media giant Time Warner, and the conglomerate also engineered an almost-unheard-of contract with the singer in 1991. (A year earlier, Madonna had appeared on the cover of the staid financial magazine Forbes under the banner "America's Smartest Business Woman?") The seven-year multimedia contract with Time Warner, reportedly worth $60 million, gave her almost complete artistic control over her music--including her own label, Maverick--and supposedly included $5 million in advances for each forthcoming album. Included in the package were deals for cable television specials and any film projects she wished to develop.

The Sex book coincided with the release of Madonna's 1992 album Erotica. Again, a steamy video accompanied the title track, but this time the video easily made it onto MTV playlists--albeit in the wee hours of the night. Much of the material, as in the Like a Prayer effort, was written by Madonna with the help of producers Shep Pettibone and Andre Betts. In addition to Erotica's bestselling title song, the record also contains "In This Life," a track about people close to the singer who have died of AIDS, as well as "Goodbye to Innocence," a wistful look at the nature of celebrity.

The Erotica album was followed by another film release, a mediocre murder mystery titled Body of Evidence, in which Madonna starred opposite Willem Dafoe. She also embarked on yet another world tour, this one entitled The Girlie Show. It featured topless women and more racy vignettes set to her music, and helped earn her condemnation from the Roman Catholic church authority in Rome.

Showed Other Side to Persona

Madonna showed another side of her complex persona with the late 1994 release of Bedtime Stories. The record featured quieter, more soul-tinged numbers, and reaction was favorable, although sales were not as brisk as for her previous records. "The eroticism she hints at on Bedtime Stories is actually sexier than that of her more wanton songs and videos," observed Time reviewer Christopher John Farley. The critic added that as "one of the pop-music giants of the 1980s ... she has risked becoming an artifact of that era," but pointed out that her collaborative efforts with some groundbreaking performers of the 1990s--songs either written or performed with the likes of Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Bjork, and producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds--were quite impressive.

In addition to her work with Edmonds, Madonna teamed with a trio of other producers specializing in the contemporary African American sounds of R&B. When Rolling Stone writer Zehme asked Madonna if she ever felt African American, she replied "Oh, yes, all the time.... When I was a little girl, I wished I was black. All my girlfriends were black. I was living in Pontiac, Michigan, and I was definitely the minority in the neighborhood.... I used to make cornrows and everything.... If being black is synonymous with having soul, then, yes, I feel that I am."

New Role as Maverick Records Executive

By the mid-1990s, Madonna had become an active chief executive of the Maverick label. Maverick's roster has included female artists Me'Shell NdegéOcello--who performed on Bedtime Stories--and Alanis Morissette, as well as heavy grunge rockers Candlebox, Bad Brains, and Prodigy. Time-Warner bought out Madonna's interest in the label in 2004, after both sides filed lawsuits against each other alleging poor management. There is also a separate film production company, not attached to Time Warner, that allows Madonna to develop film projects, among them Farewell My Concubine and Dangerous Game.

Madonna's determination to play the starring role in Evita paid off. While the film and her performance received mixed reviews, no one could take away her dedication, hard work, or box office success. In 1997, Madonna won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for the role. Later that year, the song "You Must Love Me" from Evita won an Academy Award for Best Song. The film's premiere in late 1995 was upstaged in October when Madonna gave birth to a baby girl named Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon (Lola for short). The child was her daughter with Carlos Leon, a personal trainer. Madonna described the event to People magazine as, "the greatest miracle of my life." She even traded in her pink Hollywood mansion for a home in a low-key suburb of Los Angeles.

Released Introspective Ray of Light

In 1998, Madonna released Ray of Light. For the album, she collaborated with producer William Orbit for many of the tracks. It was filled with somber songs of deep introspection and was a blend of techno and pop. The album reflected her study of the kabbalah (an ancient Jewish doctrine) and interest in Far East Indian culture. It received rave reviews and was one of her best-selling records. The album won Grammy Awards for Best Dance Recording, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Music Video, Short Form. The following year, Madonna contributed the single "Beautiful Stranger" to the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack. The single won a Grammy Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television (shared with Orbit) in 1999.

Madonna costarred in the film The Next Best Thing with her real-life friend, Rupert Everett, in 2000. While the film did not get fantastic reviews, the soundtrack did moderately well. Containing two new Madonna songs, "American Pie" (a remake of the Don McLean classic) and "Time Stood Still," the album also featured tracks by artists such as Moby, Beth Orton, Christina Aguilera, and Groove Armada. It was Madonna's first record on which she was the executive producer.

New Marriage, New Life

On August 11, 2000, Madonna gave birth to a baby boy named Rocco. The child was her son with British film director Guy Ritchie. Shortly after that event, Madonna released Music on September 19, 2000. Working with a handful of producers, mainly the French producer Mirwais Ahmadzai (who worked on six of the ten tracks), but also Orbit, Guy Sigsworth, and Mark "Spike" Stent, the album carried on the electronica element she introduced in Ray of Light. Receiving mostly good reviews, the album was "filled with vocoders, stylish neo-electro beats, dalliances with trip-hop, and, occasionally, eerie synthesized atmospherics," according to Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide.

On December 21, 2000, Madonna and Richie had their son baptized in a thirteenth-century cathedral in Dornoch, Scotland. The next day, Madonna and Ritchie were married at Scotland's ninteenth-century Skibo Castle. The nine-part wedding ceremony featured vows the couple had helped write. Madonna's daughter, Lourdes, was the flower girl, and their four-month-old son sat nearby in the arms of a nanny. Guests at the wedding included Everett, actress Gwyenth Paltrow, musician Sting, and designer Donatella Versace.

Madonna collected her family and embarked on the 48-stop Drowned World tour throughout much of 2001, playing to sellout audiences and grossing an estimated $2 million per performance. She starred in Up for Grabs, a stage play which opened at London's Wyndam Theatre on May 23, 2002, and made a cameo appearance in the James Bond film Die Another Day, which was released in the fall of 2002. That year she also starred in Swept Away, a poorly received film directed by her husband.

In 2003 Madonna added another line to her already impressive resume: best-selling children's book author. She signed a contract with British publisher Callaway to write five picture books, all morality tales inspired by her study of Kaballah, a branch of Jewish mysticism. The first two books, The English Roses (about the perils of jealousy and judging by appearances) and Mr. Peabody's Apples (about the harm caused by spreading rumors) both reached number one on the New York Times children's books best-sellers list, and the final three tales (Yakov and the Seven Thieves, The Adventures of Abdi, and Lotsa de Casha) also proved popular with readers. Madonna donated all profits from the sales of the books to the Spirituality for Kids Foundation, a project of the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles.

In December of 2003 it was announced that Madonna would launch a merchandise line starring the characters from her children's book, The English Roses. Products such as dolls, tea sets, hot chocolate, apparel, and home decor hit stores in late 2004. She also planned to write a sequel to the popular book in 2005.

In March of 2004 Madonna's Maverick label filed a breach of contract suit against Warner Music, seeking $200 million in damages and an end to the joint-venture between the two companies. The suit, which alleged fraud and false accounting, was a culmination of a year-long dispute between the two firms. The dispute ended well, though, for in June of 2004 Warner Music announced a buyout of Madonna's interest in Maverick Records, and Madonna indicated her plans to continue recording with Warner Bros. Then on November 11, 2004 Madonna was inducted into the first U.K. Music Hall of Fame, as an honorary member.

On August 16, 2005 Madonna suffered three cracked ribs, a broken collarbone, and a broken hand when she fell from a horse on her estate in England. She was treated and released from the hospital, and a few months later she appeared to be fully recovered and working on her next album. In October it was announced that Madonna would preview a dance song from her upcoming album, Confessions on a Dance Floor on the popular TV shows CSI: Miami and CSI: NY, who were doing a crossover episode. The show aired November 7, 2005. Madonna was expected to release her new album shortly afterwards.

by Carol Brennan

Madonna's Career

Backup singer and drummer for the Breakfast Club (a dance band), 1980; backup singer for disco star Patrick Hernandez, 1980-81; singer in a number of New York-based dance bands, including the Millionaires, Modern Dance, and Emmy, 1981-83; solo performer, 1983-; signed with Sire Records (a division of Warner Bros.), 1983; released first album, Madonna, 1983; had first top-ten hit, "Borderline," 1984; signed with Time Warner, 1991; head of own record label (Maverick), 1992-2004. Actress in feature films, including Desperately Seeking Susan, 1985, Shanghai Surprise, 1986, Who's That Girl?, 1987, Dick Tracy, 1990, A League of Their Own, 1992, Body of Evidence, 1993, Dangerous Game, 1993, Four Rooms, 1996, Girl 6, 1996, Evita, 1996, The Next Best Thing, 2000, Swept Away, 2002, and Arthur, 2006; also the subject of a documentary titled Truth or Dare, 1991. Author of children's books, including The English Roses, 2003; Mr. Peabody's Apples, 2003; Yakov and the Seven Thieves, 2004; The Adventures of Abdi, 2004; Lotsa de Casha, 2005.

Madonna's Awards

People's Choice Award, Favorite Female Musical Performer (tied with Whitney Houston), 1987; People's Choice Award, International Rock Award, 1991; Grammy Award, Best Music Video, Long Form for Madonna: Blonde Ambition World Tour Live (shared), 1992; Golden Globe Award, Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) for Evita, 1996; Billboard Music Artist Achievement Award, 1996; Grammy Awards, Best Dance Recording for "Ray of Light," Best Pop Vocal Album for Ray of Light (shared), and Best Music Video, Short Form for "Ray of Light" (shared), 1998; Grammy Award, Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television for "Beautiful Stranger" (shared), 1999 Billboard Award, Best Video Clip of the Year, for Music, 2000; Capital FM Award, Favorite International Solo Artist, 2001; International Dance Music Awards, Best Pop Dance 12 Inch Record, Best Dance Video, and Best Solo Dance Artist, all 2001, and Best Solo Dance Artist, 2002; Grammy Award, Best Recording Package, for Music, 2001; MVPA Award, Video of the Year, for Don't Tell Me, 2001; Michael Jackson International Artist of the Year Award, American Music Awards,2003; inducted into the U.K. Music Hall of Fame, 2004.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

February 2006: Madonna was named to receive the MTV TRL (Total Request Live) Lifetime Achievement Award. Source: USA Today,, February 13, 2006.

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…