BAY CITY, MI — Bay County music historian Gary Johnson recalls making the trip to Cleveland in 2008 to watch Bay City’s most famous daughter inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Though the induction ceremony was conducted in New York City, it was broadcast live at the hall’s Ohio museum.
Johnson says it was a thrill to see Madonna’s name appear on the screen, with the subheading of “Bay City, Michigan” just before Justin Timberlake inducted music’s biggest female pop star.
“She racked up the greatest track record in music history — 47 top 40 hits,” Timberlake said in his speech. “This is a singing, dancing, writing, promoting, achieving superstar who became the biggest name on the planet the old fashioned way — she earned it.”
Johnson concurs, and believes it’s a shame Bay City hasn’t done more to capitalize on Madonna’s legacy.
“No one has given Bay City more publicity over the years than Madonna,” said Johnson. “Every one of those hundreds of Madonna sites on the Internet, you click on her biography and within the first two sentences, there’s Bay City, Michigan.”
Folklore and myths surround Madonna and her relationship with her hometown — it’s said she refused to accept a key to the city and that she badmouthed the community to the national press. The truth behind these stories, and whether the estrangement between Bay City and Madonna can be reconciled, is a topic Johnson intends to examine with a forthcoming seminar hosted by the Bay County Historical Society.
The exhibition is being held at the Bay County Historical Museum, 321 Washington Ave., on Saturday, Feb. 8. The event starts at noon with an hour-long selection of 14 of the Material Girl’s seminal music videos. At 1 p.m., Johnson is conducting a presentation entitled “The Madonna Controversy.”
“Over the years, the tales have been twisted,” Johnson said. “Madonna has always spoken fondly of Bay City, except for one occasion.”
That occasion took place in 1987 when, in an interview with Jane Pauley on NBC, the star referred to Bay City as “a little smelly town in northern Michigan.”
“I find it hard to believe she said this in a hateful way,” Johnson said. “It was probably more in a light-hearted way.”
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