Known for her ever-changing, chameleon-like persona, Madonna is as much a brand as an individual. A media–savvy trendsetter, Madonna’s uncanny business sense is matched only by her talent. A veritable force of nature, Madonna’s ability to control her image, career and destiny was honed from an early age.

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A Little Girl Grows Up Too Fast

The third child to Michigan residents and Italian immigrants Madonna and Tony Ciccone, Madonna Louise Ciccone was nicknamed Nonni to differentiate her from her young mother. When Madonna was 6 years old, her mother lost a battle with breast cancer, leaving the young girl confused and bereft of a maternal figure.
Despite her early heartbreak, Madonna excelled in school, getting good marks and gravitating towards dance studies in high school. Madonna’s dance talent was undeniable, and she was awarded a dance scholarship to study at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. She did not graduate, instead choosing to come to New York and study with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

An Unkind Welcome to City Life

Life in New York was difficult. She began waitressing at Dunkin’ Donuts, but she was unable to pay the bills. Already quite at ease with her physical self, Madonna opted to earn rent money by posing for art students in the nude.
She lived in ramshackle and dangerous apartments and was raped on a rooftop by two men at knifepoint She was also held-up at gun point and was the victim of several apartment robberies. All of this understandably left her shell shocked. However, she was undeterred from her professional goals.

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Turning Hardship Into Triumph

Madonna took up the drums and started to sing pop music in the band Breakfast Club. During that time, Madonna also made the rounds as a backup singer and dancer in the New York club and then-thriving disco scene. Eventually, Madonna started to craft her own lyrics, writing songs in partnership with an old college flame. Mark Kamins, a popular DJ, was spinning at New York’s trendy Danceteria club and played her tapes for the crowd, who went wild. Kamins then brought Madonna to the attention of record producer and founder of Sire Records, Seymour Stein, who helped jump start Madonna’s wild ride to stardom. Kamins would produce her first hit, the dance anthem, “Everybody.”

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An Icon, a Legacy and a Woman

Currently, Madonna continues to turn heads, make trends and she’s doing it all her way. A clothing line, Material Girl, is designed with her daughter, Lourdes, and her health clubs, Hard Candy Fitness, have expanded internationally.
She has sold over 300 million records throughout her career and paved the way for generations of women new to the music business.
Her social conscience has expanded, leading to benefit performances for Malawi and Haiti.

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(CBS New York / Corey Whelan)