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Michigan Memories Of Madonna
Head out to Rochester Adams High School and it’s hard to fi nd much student interest in one of its most famous graduates — Madonna.
“We don’t really have anything (about her) out here,” says one staff member. “Even the yearbooks that have pictures of her have been stolen.”
Still, as the song says, this used to be her playground — Pontiac, Rochester, Detroit and, briefly, Ann Arbor — before the multi-faceted and provocative pop culture icon took herself to New York in 1978 and, six years later, launched a headline-making career in music, film, high society, religion and social and political issues.
She’s sold more than 200 million records worldwide to become the best-selling female rock artist ever and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee earlier this year.
Meanwhile, glimpses of Madonna in Michigan, and particularly Oakland County, reveal someone an Adams counselor described as “extremely talented, dedicated, motivated, sparkling personality” in a scholarship application to the University of Michigan.
* She was born Madonna Louise Ciccone on Aug. 16, 1958, in Bay City, to Chrysler/ General Dynamics engineer Silvio “Tony” Ciccone (pronouced “Chick-onee” in Italian but Americanized to “Si-kone”) and his wife, who was also named Madonna. The couple had six children and moved to Pontiac in the early ’60s. Madonna’s father married the family’s housekeeper, Joan, and the union produced two more children.
* Early Madonna lore said the Ciccone family lived next door to Bob Seger and his family in Pontiac. Not true, though they did live in the same neighborhood and Seger once reportedly stopped at the Ciconne house for assistance when he had car trouble.
* Madonna attended St. Frederick’s elementary school in Pontiac and St. Andrews and West Junior High in Rochester before attending Adams.
* One teacher recalled that she “had this attitude like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna be somebody. You all just watch me.’”
* Former Adams French teacher Lintz said Madonna “never bothered with the whole peer thing other than ‘I’m gonna be somebody.’ Her ... personality was well on its way to forming by the time she was here.”
* She was a good student at Adams, often on the honor roll with mostly A’s and B’s. She did well on the SAT and scored in the top 10 percent on a verbal intelligence test.
* Madonna’s extra-curricular activities at Adams included junior varsity cheerleading, choir and Latin Club.
* She was also active in starting the school’s Thespian Society, which staged several skits and one play, “Dark of the Moon,” during her tenure. Madonna won the club’s first Outstanding Senior Thespian Award and organized the club’s first fundraiser — a pie sale. Bev Gibson, her drama instructor, called Madonna “a fine actress.”
* Outside of school Madonna was a swimming instructor at the Rochester community pool and volunteered with Help-a-Kid, a variation of the Big Brother program.
* During her final year, Madonna adopted what was then considered a more “natural” appearance, foregoing makeup and letting her body hair grow.
* “She had a real European kind of attitude, a real cosmpolitan flair,” retired choir teacher Alan Lentz said. “She dared to be different.”
* Madonna wound up graduating early, in the middle of the 1975-76 school year. She spent her high school years zipping out of here,” said former Adams counselor Nancy Ryan-Mitchell. “At that time she talked mostly about dance. She knew she was good and wanted to be famous and would work hard to make it.”
* French teacher Lintz remembered that at school dances, Madonna would “be in the front of the cafeteria, just really letting it loose. The other kids would walk up to me and say, ‘Who’s Madonna dancing with?’ The music started and her whole body filled with it, like she was alone with the music.”
* Madonna studied dance at the Christopher Ballet in Rochester from 1972 until it folded in 1976. Christopher Flynn, the studio’s late owner — who became a dance instructor at U-M while Madonna attended — was a mentor who introduced the teenager to fashion, music and the latest popular dances, mostly at gay clubs such as Bookie’s and Menjo’s on Detroit’s Six Mile Road. “She could very quickly attune to any atmosphere,” Flynn said. “She’d be totally relaxed and get into it, then come out and be a totally different person.”
* During her short time at U-M, Madonna lived in Stockwell Hall and University Towers, and she worked at Miller’s Ice Cream parlor and Dooley’s bar. She and close friends Whitley Setrakian-Hill and Linda Alaniz, would often go dancing at clubs such as the Blue Frog and the Ruvia.
* Setrakian-Hill used to call Madonna “my little bowl of Bear Mush” after a wholegrain cereal she ate. Madonna was also know to eat large amounts of popcorn. “She just needed somebody to accept her, no questions asked,” said Setrakian-Hill. “She needed somebody to love her. She was not this hardcore person you see now.”
* Alaniz recalled that Madonna would save her Dooley’s tips in a book about the New York Ballet. “She’d open this book and show me how much money she had,” Alaniz said. “She was getting ready to come to New York, getting her kitty together for the real world.”
* Ultimately, nobody who knew Madonna in Michigan has been surprised by her success. “She told me she was going to the moon,” the late Flynn said, “and I believed her.”
Madonna performs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 18) at Ford Field, Brush Street and Madison Avenue, downtown Detroit. Tickets are $50-350. Call (313) 262-2000 or visit www. livenation.com.
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