IF WE TOOK A HOLIDAY
Seeing Madonna’s Michigan: A Cultural Tour of the Material Girl’s Home State
To celebrate 60 years since she was born in Bay City, Michigan, take a tour of Madonna’s home state milestones and influences.
Call her the Material Girl, Madge, or even her Kabbalah name Esther, but without her home state of Michigan, there would be no Madonna. While most people associate Michigan with Motown, the sound shaped by Detroit—the Motor City—it also gave rise to Madonna.
She might highlight Venice, New York, and the far corners of the Earth in her videos, but her roots are in Michigan, from the suburbs of Detroit, to the farthest reaches of the mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula. The state is strewn with Madonna sites, some of which she comes back to again and again for concerts and family.
In honor of her 60th birthday, The Daily Beast takes you on a tour of Madonna’s Michigan.
Bay City, Michigan is where it all began for Madge at 7:05 a.m. on Aug. 16, 1958, at Mercy Hospital on 100 15th St. in this town of about 35,000 people, two hours north of Detroit. The future star did not grow up in Bay City but was born here when her parents Madonna Louise and Silvio Anthony Ciccone, better known as Tony, were visiting her maternal grandparents. The building, just a few blocks from the Saginaw River, is no longer a hospital. It’s done what Madonna is famous for and reinvented itself, becoming a 180-unit apartment complex called The Bradley House.
Calvary Cemetery, at 2977 Old Kawkawlin Rd., Kawkawlin, Michigan, is a few miles north of Bay City and is the final resting place of Madonna’s mother, who died of breast cancer when Madonna was only 5 years old, forever leaving an empty space in her heart. The cemetery played a pivotal role in Madonna’s 1991 movie Truth or Dare, also known as In Bed With Madonna, about her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour. After her Detroit concert, Madonna and her brother Christopher visit, with Madonna lying down next to her mother’s grave, with the song “Promise to Try” as part of the scene.
Madonna went to high school at Rochester Adams High School, at 3200 W. Tienken Rd. in Rochester Hills, in Oakland County, in the suburbs of Detroit. It is considered one of the state’s best high schools, and Madonna herself was an exceptional student and a cheerleader. It was at this time that she would meet one of the most important people early in her life, her ballet instructor Christopher Flynn, who pushed her to pursue a dance career and apply to the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Flynn, according to the Michigan LGBTQ Remember gay history site, died of AIDS-related complications in 1990.
The Motor City is full of sites Madonna visited during her youth. A key site and part of her early career as a dancer was the gay nightclub complex Menjo’s at 928 W. McNichols Rd., which she went to with her ballet teacher while she was still in high school. Her early presence on the gay scene in Detroit is well remembered. Steve Culver, the publisher of Out Post, a magazine serving Metro Detroit’s LGBT community, said of this period, “A lot of gay men in their sixties today came out at Menjo’s back in the day. And in her own way, so did Madonna.”
Tim McKee-Zazo, Menjo’s general manager, said that even to this day, “We get the Madonna question all the time,” from people who learn that this was likely the first gay bar the gay icon ever danced at.
Though he said he never met her, McKee has heard the stories from people who worked at Menjo’s at the time. “Before she went to New York and got famous, this was her hangout. Her period of coming here was the mid- to late ’70s, but then she was barred from coming,” he said, sharing a local legend. “She got kicked out of here for pulling her vagina out. She was a rowdy teenager at the time.” With few women going to the bar, Madonna would have been a very noticeable presence, no matter what she did.
Detroit is also home to the Joe Louis Arena at 19 Steve Yzerman Dr. downtown along the Detroit River, which Madonna has played several times. Scenes for the Blond Ambition Tour for Truth or Dare were recorded here, including when her father visits and argues that she should not to do certain parts of her act.
The Motown Museum on 2648 W. Grand Blvd. in the Newtown district has a small display that seems almost an afterthought about Madonna as part of its overall exhibits on the history of music in Michigan. Certainly, being in and near a city with so many important musical figures would have had an impact on a young Madonna.
Madonna was not here for long, attending the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance on the University’s North Campus, before dropping out to move to New York in 1978. Still, according to material provided by the UM archivist for university history, Brian Williams, she made the most of it. She lived just off Central Campus at 536 S. Forest, Apt. 10A, or University Towers, one of the college town’s tallest buildings. In an email to The Daily Beast, Williams pointed to photos of Madonna in the 1978 Michiganensian yearbook performing in a production of Cabaret. According to Williams, “Madonna's roommate was Whitley Anne Setrakian from New York. Now known as Whit Hill, she published a book in 2011 titled, Not About Madonna: My Little Pre-Icon Roommate and Other Memoirs.” A story about the book with a few excerpts can be found in an AnnArbor.com article. Hill now lives in Nashville and is a singer and songwriter in her own right.
Madonna appears in two UM student directories, 1977-1978 and 1978-1979. A flier from December 1977 provided by Williams also indicates that Madonna performed several parts in a few small plays and musical productions put on that month by the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. When she was not dancing or acting, Madonna was out partying, according to Williams, who explained, “Madonna is said to have frequented the Blue Frogge bar and disco [current site of Rick’s] at 611 Church Street and the Rubaiyat, a gay bar at 102 S. First [now the site of LIVE].”
That’s a lot for a first-year student to cram in. Still, Madonna’s daughter Lourdes followed in her footsteps, attending UM for a few years more recently. She didn’t complete her studies either.
Papa don’t preach; he produces wine. Our last stop on Madonna’s Michigan is the Ciccone Vineyard & Winery, at 10343 E. Hilltop Rd., Suttons Bay. It’s just north of Traverse City in Michigan’s agricultural region, on a hilltop site overlooking Grand Traverse Bay. The 40-acre winery was opened in 1995 by Tony Ciccone, Madonna’s father, and her stepmother, Joan. It offers wine tastings, tours, and event space for weddings. Outside of Michigan, the state might not be known for its wine, but several wineries dot this region along with the countless cherry orchards. Indeed, among the best of the wines offered at Ciccone is the Bella Ciliegia, its cherry wine. The Madonna connection is a draw for some visitors but a member of staff contacted for this article felt that few people visit for that reason or are even aware of it.
Madonna obsessives can find even more sites from childhood homes to offices and churches, but consider yourself familiar with the first steps on the pilgrimage to Madonna’s Michigan.