Turn on the TV any hour of the day and you're apt to see blond bombshell Madonna vamping her way through one of several MTV videos. Her hit single, Borderline, rose to the top of the charts last June, but few people realize Madonna grew up in Pontiac, one of eight children of a Chrysler employee. She attended St. Frederick's and St. Andrew's Catholic schools and trained as a dancer, settling in New York in the late 70's as a member of Alvin Ailey's repertory company. After bouncing around for a few years' as a disco star, drummer and dancer, she settled down, learned to play guitar and started writing songs.
Q. What's your real name?
A. Madonna Ciccone.
Q. There's some confusion as to whether you're from Rochester or Pontiac.
A. Actually, I was born in Bay City. My father first moved to Detroit when he worked for Chrysler, then we moved to Pontiac, then Rochester.
Q. Isn't that where you lived next door to Bob Seger?
A. There was a big field behind our house in Rochester -- it's a golf course now. There was a big white farmhouse behind the field, and there was always loud music coming from it. Bob Seger rehearsed there with his band. He might have lived there, too; I'm not sure.
Q. Why did you go to New York?
A. After I graduated from high school, I went to New York for the summer on an Alvin Ailey scholarship, and I loved it. I'd gotten a scholarship to U-M's School of Fine Arts through my dancing, so I came back and went there for year. It was then that I decided t o back to New York and be a professional dancer.
Q. How did your parents feel?
A. They were skeptical. My father really had his heart set on me going to the university. Dancing was such an unstable life
Q. What do you miss about Detroit?
A. Speeding on the highway in my little red Mustang. Things were a lot simpler in Detroit. I didn't care about anything but boyfriends.
Q. Were you in a band in Detroit?
A. No, but I used to have crushes on bands all the time. My older brothers and uncle were jazz musicians, and they used to take me to Baker's Keyboard Lounge all the time to see Dizzy Gillespie -- stuff like that.
Q. Did you play any instrument?
A. No. My father made everybody play some instrument, but I convinced him I was too hyperactive, that I should concentrate on dance and work off some of my energy instead. It's ironic now that I'm the only one in my family who's really pursued music.
Q. Didn't they try to make you into a French disco star?
A. Oh, yeah. I auditioned as a dancer/backup singer for a Patrick Hernandez show -- he's a big international disco star. After I auditioned, they said I was great, but they wanted me to go to Paris and they'd make me a big star. I wouldn't have to sign any contract, they'd pay for everything; singing lessons, French lessons. I was getting pretty tired of wandering around New York, so I did it. But it turned out they really didn't know what to do with me; they'd only worked successfully with one other singer before. I came back and started working with a band in New York.
Q. A lot of people, hearing your single, think you're black.
A. People hear the soul, black influence in my voice. I grew up listening to CKLW and all the black stations like WLBS.
Q. How old are you?
A. I'd rather not say, because everybody gets it wrong, and then nobody really knows how old I am anyway.
Q. Can a girl make it as a singer in Detroit?
A. If Motown was still there, it'd be great, but I think you have to go to one of the coasts. You can make tapes and send them out, though. It depends on what you want. You can make it wherever you want to, you've just got to have the discipline. And the contacts.
Originally published Sept. 2, 1984 in Michigan, The Magazine of The Detroit News