About this Famous Person
American recording artist, actress and entrepreneur
Madonna was born in Bay City, Michigan. Her father, Silvio Anthony Ciccone, is a first-generation Italian American, while her mother, Madonna Louise née Fortin, was of French Canadian descent. The Ciccone family originated from Pacentro, Italy; her father later worked as a design engineer for Chrysler and General Motors. Madonna was nicknamed "Little Nonni" to distinguish her from her mother. The third of six children from the same two parents, her full-blood siblings are: Martin, Anthony, Paula, Christopher, and Melanie. Madonna was raised Roman Catholic. Upon receiving confirmation, she adopted Veronica as an additional confirmation name. She was raised in the Detroit suburbs of Pontiac and Avon Township (now part of Rochester Hills).
Her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 30 in 1963. Months before her mother's death, Madonna noticed changes in her behavior and personality from the attentive homemaker she was, although she did not understand the reason. Mrs. Ciccone, at a loss to explain her dire medical condition, would often begin to cry when questioned by Madonna, at which point Madonna would respond by wrapping her arms around her mother tenderly. "I remember feeling stronger than she was," Madonna recalled, "I was so little and yet I felt like she was the child." Madonna later acknowledged that she had not grasped the concept of her mother dying. "There was so much left unsaid, so many untangled and unresolved emotions, of remorse, guilt, loss, anger, confusion. [...] I saw my mother, looking very beautiful and lying as if she were asleep in an open casket. Then I noticed that my mother's mouth looked funny. It took me some time to realize that it had been sewn up. In that awful moment, I began to understand what I had lost forever. The final image of my mother, at once peaceful yet grotesque, haunts me today also."
Madonna eventually learned to take care of herself and her siblings, and she turned to her grandmother in the hope of finding some solace and some form of her mother in her. The Ciccone siblings resented housekeepers and invariably rebelled against anyone brought into their home ostensibly to take the place of their beloved mother. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Madonna commented that she saw herself in her youth as a "lonely girl who was searching for something. I wasn't rebellious in a certain way. I cared about being good at something. 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.... I wanted to be somebody." Terrified that her father could be taken from her as well, Madonna was often unable to sleep unless she was near him. Her father married the family's housekeeper Joan Gustafson, and they had two children: Jennifer and Mario Ciccone. At this point, Madonna began to express unresolved feelings of anger towards her father that lasted for decades, and developed a rebellious attitude. She attended St. Frederick's and St. Andrew's Catholic Elementary Schools, and then West Middle School. She was known for her high grade point average, and achieved notoriety for her unconventional behavior: she would perform cartwheels and handstands in the hallways between classes, dangle by her knees from the monkey bars during recess, and pull up her skirt during class—all so that the boys could see her underwear.
Madonna later attended Rochester Adams High School, and was a straight-A student and a member of the cheerleading squad. After graduating, she received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan. She convinced her father to allow her to take ballet lessons and was persuaded by Christopher Flynn, her ballet teacher, to pursue a career in dance. At the end of 1977 she dropped out of college and relocated to New York City. She had little money and worked as a waitress at Dunkin' Donuts and with modern dance troupes. Madonna said of her move to New York, "It was the first time I'd ever taken a plane, the first time I'd ever gotten a taxi cab. I came here with $35 in my pocket. It was the bravest thing I'd ever done." She started to work as a backup dancer for other established artists. During a late night, Madonna was returning from a rehearsal, when she was dragged up an alleyway by a pair of men and forced to perform fellatio at knifepoint. Madonna had later commented that "the episode was a taste of my weakness, it showed me that I still could not save myself in spite of all the strong-girl show. I could never forget it." While performing as a dancer for the French disco artist Patrick Hernandez on his 1979 world tour, Madonna became romantically involved with musician Dan Gilroy. They formed her first rock band, the Breakfast Club, for which Madonna sang and played drums and guitar. In 1980 she left Breakfast Club and, with her former boyfriend Stephen Bray as drummer, formed the band Emmy. Their music impressed DJ and record producer Mark Kamins who arranged a meeting between Madonna and Sire Records founder Seymour Stein.