Madonna is the most media-savvy American pop star since Bob Dylan and, until she toned down her press-baiting behavior in the Nineties, she was the most consistently controversial one since Elvis Presley. Her pleasure-celebrating dance music and outré videos gave feminism a much-needed makeover throughout the Eighties, smashing sexual boundaries, making eroticism a crucial pop-song element, and challenging social and religious mores. Madonna later positioned herself as a doting mother and charitable international citizen, but to her detractors, she merely reinforced the notion of “woman as a plaything,” turning the clock back on conventional feminism two decades. One thing, however, is rarely disputed: At nearly every turn, she has maintained firm control over her career and image.
Born in Bay City, Michigan, Madonna Ciccone was one of six children. Her mother died when Madonna was six, leaving her father to raise the family. She began studying dance at 14 and, after graduating from high school in 1976, continued her dance studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She moved to New York in 1978, where she studied briefly with the Alvin Ailey dance troupe.
Her first crack at pop music came when a boyfriend let her sing and play drums in his band, the Breakfast Club. While in the band, she landed a brief job as backup singer and dancer with disco star Patrick (“Born to Be Alive”) Hernandez.
In 1981 she quit the Breakfast Club and started writing songs with a former boyfriend from her college years, Steven Bray. The two gained attention in the trendy New York club Danceteria, where the DJ, Mark Kamins, played her tapes; it was Kamins who took Madonna’s demo to Sire Records and produced her first club hit, 1982’s “Everybody.” A few months later Sire released her self-titled debut, which peaked at Number Eight. It spawned “Holiday,” a single that crossed over from nightclubs to radio, eventually topping out at Number 16 on the pop charts by the following year.
In late 1984, the Nile Rodgers-produced Like a Virgin (Number One, 1984), with its chart-topping title song, shot to the Top 10 upon its release; it eventually sold more than 10 million copies, and the rest is history as that was just the beginning…
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