She became the highest-selling female musician of all time and has enjoyed a career spanning more than three decades. What did Madonna do before she was famous?
Madonna was born and raised in Michigan, the daughter of Roman Catholic parents. Her mother died when Madonna was just five and the loss profoundly affected her. She was accepted to the University of Michigan but dropped out and moved to New York, pursuing a music career.
For more on Madonna’s early years and her path to global fame, read on.
Madonna Louise Ciccone was born in Bay City, Michigan on August 16, 1958, while her parents were visiting family in the area. Her parents were Tony Ciccone, a Chrysler engineer, and Madonna Fortin.
Madonna’s parents had five other children, with her as the eldest daughter. She was raised in Rochester Hills, also in Michigan.
Madonna was raised Roman Catholic but always displayed a willingness to rebel against authority, shown in full effect in the infamous video for “Like A Prayer”, which was condemned by the Vatican.
She has described her mother as “a religious zealot” and said that priests and nuns frequently visited her home. The presence of religion in her life clearly had a significant impact on Madonna.
Her mother died of breast cancer when she was just 30 years old in 1963, while Madonna was only five. She has said that the pain of witnessing her mother’s physical decline made her more determined to express herself and have a powerful voice in the world.
Unable or unwilling to manage his children, Tony hired a number of housekeepers including Joan Gustafson, who he would later marry.
In the early years of her career, Madonna frequently referred to Joan as her “wicked stepmother”, referencing her former housekeeper’s strict attitude. Even so, Madonna’s brother, Christopher, with whom she has a close personal and professional relationship, has said that Joan likely influenced her sense of discipline in her music career.
Madonna was an exemplary high school student and was offered a place at the University of Michigan. She enrolled but dropped out before graduating in 1978, deciding to pursue a career as a dancer.
She moved to New York to dance. A year later, she was raped at knifepoint and has said that the horrendous experience made her “street smart and more savvy”.
Despite the trauma she suffered, Madonna was determined to continue chasing her dreams rather than returning home to Michigan.
By day, Madonna worked as a waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts while learning modern dance and performing by night. She joined a rock band called “The Breakfast Club” but broke away to pursue solo success shortly after.
Attempting to raise her profile and gain experience, Madonna offered to sing in numerous clubs around the city. Her perseverance paid off and, in 1982, she was signed by Sire Records.
Despite being a complete unknown as a performer, Madonna had no issue exerting herself in negotiations and the studio, wanting to produce her first album. While Sire refused because of her lack of production knowledge, Madonna studied relentlessly, and, by 1984’s “Like A Virgin”, she was producing her own records.
In 1985, Playboy magazine published nude photos of Madonna that had been taken while she worked as an art model. Rather than shy away from the attention, Madonna embraced the sense of liberation and used it as part of her public persona. As her brother Christopher said, she had “nothing to hide anymore.”
Madonna’s long career in music has been hugely successful, at times controversial, but her willingness to constantly change her style and adapt to suit the times has kept her relevant.
As of August 2020, she is the best-selling female recording artist of all time and the only one to be able to claim more than 300 million lifetime record sales.