Madonna is one of the most influential pop stars to have ever graced the earth. She’s been pushing buttons and embracing the risqué since decades before most of the human population deemed any of it acceptable. At age 64, the star is still a force and a beloved icon to millions, whether it’s because she inspires them to express themselves in love or as individuals. Here is a look at Madonna through the years and how she came to be the legend she is today.
Madonna’s Early Life
Madonna Louise Ciccone was born on August 16, 1958, to a Catholic family in Bay City, Michigan. She was one of six children, with two older brothers, two younger sisters, and a younger brother. Her father was Tony Ciccone, an engineer designer for General Motors and Chrysler. Her mother was also named Madonna Louise, so the younger one was nicknamed “Little Nonnie.” Madonna’s mother tragically died of breast cancer when she was only five. When Tony remarried the family’s housekeeper and they had two children, Madonna allegedly grew resentful. The feeling of her father betraying her mother would carry into their relationship as she became rebellious toward him. Perhaps that’s part of where Madonna’s rebellious nature was born from.
Videos by Rare
Videos by Rare
Madonna attended Catholic elementary schools and was a straight-A student since she was quite young. Her father arranged for her to learn piano, but she preferred to learn dance, eventually taking ballet lessons. But despite her studious nature, she was always a bit of a bad girl. She played outside during school as if she was one of the boys and didn’t shave her armpits. She’d also pull up her skirt so boys could see her panties. Later in life, she reflected on her younger self as a “lonely girl who was searching for something. I wasn’t rebellious in a certain way. I cared about being good at something,” she said. She acknowledged that she wasn’t a typical girl. “I didn’t shave my underarms and I didn’t wear make-up like normal girls do. But I studied and I got good grades.”
From Student to Vagabond: Madonna Made a Leap of Faith
Excelling at dance, Madonna received a scholarship to the University of Michigan. After two years, she dropped out to move to New York City. She allegedly had only $35 to her name when she hopped on a one-way trip to New York, determined to make it somehow. While in Michigan as well as in New York, Madonna worked as a figure model, posing nude for art photographers. Some of her art photos would later make it onto the covers of Playboy and Penthouse, although she didn’t pose for the magazines.
Once in New York, Madonna started dating musician Dan Gilroy. She then auditioned to be the backup singer and dancer for disco artist Patrick Hernandez. After traveling and performing with Hernandez in Europe for a few months, she went to Tunisia and then finally returned to Queens, New York. Living in an abandoned synagogue with Hernandez, she started her first band, The Breakfast Club. Meanwhile, she worked as a coat check girl and was cast as Bruna in the low-budget film A Certain Sacrifice.
Madonna’s Ballsy Attitude Landed Her a Record Deal
Madonna eventually left The Breakfast Club along with another member and a former lover from Michigan, drummer Stephen Bray. They formed a new band, Emmy and the Emmys. But after recording only 4 songs on a demo tape, Madonna decided to venture out on her own. She was signed onto Gotham Records in March of 1981. After playing her demo and dancing at nightclubs, she caught the eye of Warner Bros’ Sire Records.
According to Sire Records President Seymour Stein, Madonna was wearing cheap punk gear and gave him a hug before saying, “The thing to do now is sign me to a record deal… Take me, I’m yours!” When he responded, “what?” she said, “Look, just tell me what I have to do to get a f—ing record deal in this town!” She was signed onto a 3-single contract and given an option to record a full album. Stein would give her a $15,000 advance per single for her first three and beyond that, $2,500 for each song thereafter.
Her First Singles Were Smash Hits
Her first single was “Everybody,” which was released in October 1982 and played in dance halls like Danceteria. She performed the song on TV the following January. It quickly became popular in Europe and she started traveling abroad for dance hall performances. Her second single, “Burning Up,” came out in March 1983. Both of her first two singles made it to number 3 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs.
The immediate booming success of her first singles landed the singer a contract with Warner Bros. Records. Her first album, Madonna, was released in July 1983 and landed at number 8 on the Billboard 200. Two singles, “Holiday” and “Lucky Star” reached the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100. When Dick Clark introduced Madonna to younger audiences on American Bandstand (she was performing “Holiday”) she immediately became a household name.
Madonna’s Catholic Roots Inspired Like a Virgin
Next was Like a Virgin, released in November 1984. Madonna caused a lot of controversy with her fashion statements at the time, as well as her consistent allusions to Catholicism in the midst of her sex appeal. But despite the shaming she received, she only rose to further fame. The album was the first in the world by a female to sell over 5 million copies in the US and has since sold over 21 copies globally.
Madonna was also pumping out music videos for her songs, eventually getting back into acting. She starred as Susan in Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985 — which would later prompt the photographers who took her nude photos to sell them to Playboy and Penthouse. Recognizing her face on movie posters, they realized they’d photographed a star before it was born.
The following year, Madonna played Gloria Tatlock in Shanghai Surprise and then Nikki Finn in Who’s That Girl. She continued to star on-camera including as Breathless Mahoney in Dick Tracy, Rae in A League of Their Own, Elspeth in Quentin Tarantino’s Four Rooms, and Eva Perón in Evita.
Erotica and S.E.X. Created the World’s Best-Selling Coffee Table Book
Madonna’s third studio album, True Blue, was allegedly inspired by now ex-husband Sean Penn. Then came Like a Prayer in 1999 and Erotica in 1992, both of which continued to inflame more conservative types as they clenched onto their husbands’ arms. The release of Erotica coincided with Madonna’s sexy picture book, S.E.X., which to this day remains as the world’s best-selling coffee table book to ever be published. She released 9 more studio albums, with her most recent being Madame X in 2019.
Madonna was named as the best-selling female music artist of all time by the Guinness World Records. She’s received two Golden Globes, seven Grammys, and twenty MTV Video Music Awards. Billboard named her the most successful music solo artist of all time and the second most successful music artist of all time following The Beatles.
Madonna Is a Mom to Six
These days, Madonna continues to be herself. The sexy, provoking, unashamed and unafraid artist is no longer solo, though. She’s a mom to six children and has been married twice, with her second husband being Guy Ritchie. She’s also had a mind-bogglingly long list of lovers, which you can read about here.
Madonna’s first daughter, Lourdes Leon, was born on October 14, 1996. Her father is Carlos Leon. Lourdes is now a successful fashion model. Madonna’s first son, Rocco Ritchie, was born on August 11, 2000. Madonna and Ritchie got married the day after Rocco was born but later divorced in 2008.
David Banda was born September 24, 2005, in Malawi, Africa. While on a humanitarian visit with Ritchie, the couple adopted David from an orphanage when he was a 1-year-old. Chifundo “Mercy” James was born January 22, 2006, in Malawi. After divorcing Guy Ritchie, Madonna adopted Mercy in 2009 from an orphanage. Twins Stella and Estere were born on August 24, 2012, in Malawi, and Madonna adopted them when they were 5 in 2017.
Madonna consistently posted cute photos and videos of her family on Instagram, especially her kids dancing (spoiler: they’re amazing). But the pop Queen recently wiped her entire photo gallery clean, so who knows what she’s up to next.