The day Bay City should show their pride
Bay City’s Material Girl will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame today. And despite all the fanfare that distinction will bring to Madonna, the limelight likely won’t extend to the city where she was born.
Take a stroll down the streets of Bay City and try to find a sign that the musical superstar was born here. There aren’t any.
Yet, on Aug. 16, 1958, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone entered the world at 7:05 a.m. at Mercy Hospital on Bay City’s East Side. And she has more than just a few material ties to Bay City.
Her 96-year-old grandmother – as well as several first cousins, uncles and at least one aunt – still live here. Her father, Silvio “Tony” Ciccone, regularly visits Bay City, where he married Madonna‘s late mother in 1955.
An exhibit on the inductees will run for one year at the Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, including artifacts and highlights from each artist’s career.
The Queen of Pop herself was spotted visiting her birthplace five years ago, shopping at the St. Laurent Bros. candy shop and stopping by the Smith Street home where she spent her childhood summers.
So why has Bay City, in more than two decades, never officially recognized or marketed itself as “The Birthplace of Madonna?” Could it be that the city never got past a war of words between the once-controversial pop star and a once-critical mayor in the 1980s?
“I think so,” says Bay City Mayor Charles M. Brunner, who believes it was former Mayor Timothy G. Sullivan’s refusal to give Madonna a key to the city in 1985 that spoiled relations between the superstar and her birthplace. “I think it was just kind of left at that and nobody made an attempt to rectify that.”
Madonna‘s publicist did not respond to a request for an interview from The Times. But her grandmother, Elsie Fortin, said Madonna considers Bay City a special place from her past. She’s just not sure if the feeling is mutual.
“I don’t think she thought that Bay City liked her too well,” Fortin said.
Source: The Bay City Times
Click HERE to read the rest of this long article
The fallout with Madonna
The falling out started in 1985 when Sullivan, mayor of Bay City at the time, was trying to get the 26-year-old Madonna to return home for a concert. While Madonna grew up in Pontiac and Rochester Hills, after the death of her mother, she spent summers and holidays in Bay City with her grandmother. The connection was one to be proud of, particularly since Madonna already had two hit albums and a featured role in the movie “Desperately Seeking Susan.”
But then reports surfaced that photos of a bare Madonna would be unveiled in Penthouse and Playboy magazines.
“,” Sullivan told The Times in July 1985.
“We’ll give her a warm welcome, but the key represents the citizens of the community and it would not be in good taste to give her the key given certain circumstances.”
Needless to say, the homecoming concert never happened.
And Sullivan was thrust into a controversy.
“It’s certainly not something that I sought,” said Sullivan, who left office in 1989 and has kept a low profile since. “No exaggeration, I will say I had several thousand letters from all over the world, predominantly from younger folks attacking my comments to the news media.”
The singer didn’t help matters by referring to Bay City as a “smelly little town in Northern Michigan” on NBC’s Today show. She apologized during a 1987 concert at the Pontiac Silverdome, saying: “I didn’t mean the people of Bay City stink, just the Dow Chemical Plant,” referring to an old petroleum plant off Patterson Road near her grandparents’ home.
Sullivan said her remarks weren’t off base – there was a chemical refinery that would fill the neighborhood with the smell of sulfur and hydrocarbons when Madonna was a child.
“But nobody wants to have their town spoken of in that manner,” he said.
So the brush-off continued.
An Italian sculptor offered Bay City a 13-foot statue of the pop star in 1988. Bay City’s manager David D. Barnes said “thanks, but no thanks.”
And since then, the ties have remained broken.
Family members today say Madonna considered Bay City politicians “ignorant” for not taking advantage of her notoriety.
Fortin said she still keeps in touch with her granddaughter. She believes Madonna would accept a key to the city, if offered.
“I think she would,” Fortin said. “She’s far away now, but she comes back.”
The Birthplace of Madonna
Brunner says it may be time to reach out to the Madonna camp again. He says Bay City doesn’t do enough to market itself as the town where the pop star was born.
“I don’t know if Bay City does anything to market itself as the birthplace of Madonna, and I think it’s something we should be proud of,” he said. “At the end of the day, she’s very, very famous – probably one of the most famous rock and roll artists of the century.”
Madonna has enjoyed a career that’s made her one of the most recognizable names in the world. She’s credited as a pioneer, crossing over from pop music into movies, fashion and books. Always savvy, and sometimes controversial, she’s respected as a shrewd businesswoman, selling 60 million records worldwide and charting 20 singles in the 1980s, seven of which reached No. 1.
During an MSN special chat in 2002, the Material Girl made known that her connections to Bay City run deep: “,” she said.
When asked, city leaders say the idea of marketing the community as the birthplace of Madonna has merit. But it’s never been seriously discussed.
“I’ve been on the City Commission for six years,” Brunner said. “We always talk about economic development and I don’t think anybody’s ever discussed that.”
Bay City has spent the last year looking at ways to promote a tourism base, including discussions of building a maritime heritage center to explore the community’s roots as a shipbuilding town.
A singer with a penchant for controversy, sexual suggestive dancing and unforgettable lyrics may not fit into the game plan.
Yet, a small town in Mississippi found a way to embrace a native son with a similar background.
Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Presley.
“It’s made us known pretty much all over the world,” said Linda Elliff, sales director for the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s our most famous attraction. And we’re not very far from Memphis – we’re about 90 miles – so people can get the entire experience by visiting here, seeing his humble beginnings, and then going on to Graceland.”
Elliff said efforts to market Tupelo, population 36,000, as ‘The Birthplace of Elvis’ bring in about 60,000 visitors a year to The Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum.
It may not be that easy for Bay City.
“There’s still that stigma,” said Candace Bales, executive director of the Downtown Management Board and Development Authority. Bales learned that quickly upon arriving here five years ago. Bay City and Madonna, she was told, aren’t on the best of terms.
“That’s one of the first things I heard when I got here,” she said, “so there wasn’t a lot of love going that way.”
Getting into the groove
The fallout between Madonna and Bay City may be in the past, but so far, Madonna doesn’t appear to be in the city’s future.
Her father was here last year to plug his wines with images of his famous daughter on the label.
Mayor Brunner asked if there was any way to reconcile with Madonna and have her come back to finally get that key to the city.
“His words to me were ‘good luck,’ but if I got a letter and got it to him, he said he’d make sure she got it,” Brunner said.
He hasn’t written the letter yet but he said it would convey the message: “We’re very proud of you in Bay City.”
Former City Commissioner Thomas F. Wachowiak once criticized the idea of accepting a statue of Madonna. Today, Wachowiak, 63, is long retired from city politics and agrees it may be time to start thinking seriously about making amends with the superstar, who didn’t fade out as city leaders projected she would in the ’80s.
“Times have changed and people have accepted who she is, and I think they’d like to see her come into town,” he said. “I think she’s done a lot of good. I would gladly like to see her here.”
But Bay City needs recognition from Madonna much more than she needs kudos from her birthplace.
Madonna, who now lives in London with her husband Guy Ritchie and three children, recently signed a $120 million dollar deal with Artist Nation, and on April 29 is due to put out a new album, “Hard Candy,” for Warner Bros. Records. The first single features Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams and Timbaland.
She’s one of the most recognized women in the world and on Monday, she’ll be part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Bales, of the Downtown Management Board, said there is a natural opportunity to pull Madonna fans to Bay City.
“I think it would be fun to celebrate her life and have that connection be better known,” she said. “I could see it as part of our story.”