Madonna, from the Detroit area, became an Anglophile at some point in the late 1980s. By the time she met second husband Guy Ritchie, who was British, she was already sounding like one of his countrymen. How did it happen? Superstar producer Nile Rodgers, who made the “Like a Virgin” album with the burgeoning pop starlet in 1983, has an explanation. Madonna may have picked it up from his then live in girlfriend, Nancy Stoddart, who’d been reared on the Philadelphia Main Line, educated at Sarah Lawrence, then spent time in Rome and Paris among titled royalty.
“Madonna’ s nose for advancement had picked up the scent of Nancy’s blue blood,” Rodgers writes in his impossible to put down memoir, “Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny.” Rodgers–whose stunning list of hits include those by his own group Chic, plus David Bowie, Diana Ross, Mick Jagger, and Duran Duran–earlier recalls Madonna as obsessed with fame. He writes: “I’d never met anyone–ever–who worked so hard to become famous.”
When he worked with Madonna shaping her key second album, “Like a Virgin”–which also contained her other signature hit, “Material Girl”–Rodgers says Stoddart’s traits rubbed off on Madonna in a big way. Madonna became “schooled” by Stoddart, Rodgers recalls, preferring her friend’s uptown Victorian digs to her own bohemian downtown loft.
Rodgers writes: [Madonna] was an apt pupil all right, but she must have missed a couple of Nancy’s classes on life at the top. At her ’85 bridal shower [for the Sean Penn wedding] she received all sorts of presents from her downtown friends as well as Nancy’s uptown friends. A pair of berry spoons from James Robinson’s antiques shop awoke the Detroit girl in her.
“‘Berry spoons! What the fuck are berry spoons?’ shouted Madonna. I bet she knows now.”
Rodgers’ book is such a much read about so many people. But Madonna as Eliza Doolittle sticks out. Don’t worry–he’s very complimentary about her work ethic. But he also reports that Madonna never really knew her own singing voice– and insisting on singing those hits in an “unpleasant” key for her. This does explain why later Madonna sounds so different from early Top 40 Madonna.
“Le Freak” is fascinating. I’ve known Nile for 25 years, yet never really understood his background, the life in drugs, his rise to fame, an early friendship with Oprah Winfrey before she really became famous, and his extremely thoughtful take on race. There’s a lot more, but you’ve got to read it to believe it. Here is the genuine, authentic and moving story of a success that nearly didn’t happen. Bravo!