MadonnaOf the millions who have come to New York for reinvention and fame, none succeeded on as grand a scale as Madonna Louise Ciccone. That was her name when she moved from Rochester, Michigan, to New York in 1977 for a career in modern dance. Thirty-six years later, the Material Girl is one of the most famous people on the planet, and has maintained an unrivaled influence in pop culture and music for more than two decades.
From New York, Madonna rocketed to stardom in the music industry with iconic tracks like Borderline and Like a Virgin, eventually earning herself the title of best-selling female recording artist of all time. Her incredible success as a recording artist, which has earned her a net worth north of $300 million, has inspired countless pop acts that have followed in her tracks, from Britney Spears to P!nk to Lady Gaga.
Aside from having sold over 275 million records worldwide—certainly an awe-inspiring feat in itself—Madonna transformed an entire generation of 1980s women with her signature style and bold sexuality. Her trademark bleached blond hair, crucifix jewelry and variety of fishnet garments became staples of the 1980s wardrobe. Additionally, her sexualized performances—publicly broadcast on the newly created MTV—delivered a decisive blow to the era’s prevailing expectations of “acceptable” feminine behavior. With provocative music videos, she popularized the video art form and confirmed that women, too, had sexual desires, and that it was okay for them to express those feelings.
Madonna’s genius at reinvention has made her a uniquely American icon. Alternately feminist and objectified, artistic and commercial, kitschy and stylish, classic and avant-garde, she has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to lead, recognize and transform cultural trends. Throughout her career, she has maintained control of her image and her professional destiny.
But don’t go thinking that this powerful pop star is a total “Material Girl.” In 2006, Madonna co-founded the charity Raising Malawi, which helps provide Malawi’s orphans and vulnerable children with food, shelter, education and medical treatment. She is also a patron of Children of Peace, a charity that works to forge friendship and trust between Israeli and Palestinian children and teens.