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Raised in a strictly Catholic household, Madonna grew up rebelling against religion. After becoming obsessed with dancing, she moved to New York City — and found her passion for singing.@Madonna/Instagram
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Nineteen-year-old Prince posing for his first official photoshoot in 1977.DCHistoryAndCulture/Facebook
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Seen here in an early MySpace photo, Taylor Swift started traveling to New York City for vocal lessons when she was nine. Record labels rejected her homemade demo tapes for years until she performed at an RCA Records showcase at 13 and was given a development deal. She released her debut album in 2006 and is now one of the most famous pop stars of all time.@TaylorSwift/MySpace
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A young Mick Jagger before The Rolling Stones ever formed — and he became one of the most famous rock and roll frontmen on Earth.Twitter
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Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in the Marcy projects, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter spent most of his youth dealing drugs. He started winning freestyle battles in his late teenage years and quickly became the talk of underground hip-hop circles. Rejected by record labels around the country, he formed his own — Roc-A-Fella Records — and released his universally-acclaimed debut Reasonable Doubt in 1996. Wikimedia Commons
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Nirvana's Krist Novoselic (center) and Kurt Cobain (right) posing for the band's first photoshoot in 1988 — before Dave Grohl replaced drummer Kent Stax (left).Facebook
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Gwen Stefani with No Doubt in 1987.Twitter
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A teenage Eminem celebrating his birthday in the late 1980s. He would struggle to make a living for another decade before Dr. Dre gave him a record deal.Facebook
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Lady Gaga performing live at The Bitter End in New York City, on Jan. 20, 2006.AKUDAMA/YouTube
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One of the very first publicity photos of Elton John. Taken on Jan. 22, 1968, in Hampstead Heath, London, it was captured a whole year before his studio album debuted.Val Wilmer/Redferns/Getty Images
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Michael Stipe of R.E.M. at the Hollywood Palace in 1984.Ron Wolfson/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Impending reggae legend Bob Marley (center) with The Wailing Wailers in 1964 — years before he learned how to play a guitar.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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A young Adele performing in her bedroom. The English singer would release four iconic albums that have currently sold more than 30 million units.@Adele/Instagram
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Aaliyah at age 16 performing in 1995 — one year after her first album hit the stores.Catherine McGann/Getty Images
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A 16-year-old David Bowie (right) plays the saxophone with his first band, The KonRads, in 1963. @DavidBowie/Instagram
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Jada Pinkett Smith with fellow classmate Tupac Shakur at The Baltimore School for the Arts in the late 1980s. The two future stars met on their first day in 1984 and became lifelong friends. @OfficialJada/Instagram
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Rihanna in Barbados, where she grew up obsessed with Caribbean music like reggae, hip-hop, and R&B.@BadGalRiri/Instagram
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A teenage Billie Eilish in her Justin Bieber poster-adorned bedroom. She has since won seven Grammy Awards and written "No Time To Die" for the eponymous James Bond movie.@BillieEilish/Instagram
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Christina Aguilera singing the national anthem at the Target Grand Prix in Maywood, Illinois, on Aug. 15, 1999 — nine days before her self-titled debut album was released.Paul Natkin/WireImage
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Courtney Love with Jim Jarmusch at the Sid & Nancy afterparty at New York City's Puck Building on Oct. 4, 1986.Patrick McMullan/Getty Images
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Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Michael "Flea" Balzary (left) and vocalist Anthony Kiedis (right) pose for an early portrait in 1986.Lisa Haun/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Justin Bieber at age 13 performing on the street on Aug. 20, 2007. Just three years later, Bieber would release his multi-platinum debut album.Irving Shuter/Getty Images
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A shirtless Elvis Presley fingering through a stack of 45's of "That's All Right, Mama" — his very first commercial recording effort.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Debbie Harry in 1968, when she was still part of the Wind In The Willows folk-rock group — six years before she found success as Blondie.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Mariah Carey performing in 1990 — the same year that her debut album was certified platinum.Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Patti Smith reading poetry in New York City. She would go on to release 11 albums and write several award-winning novels.Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images
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Kanye West celebrating his 26th birthday in 2003, one year before his debut album The College Dropout made him a worldwide superstar.Johnny Nunez/WireImage
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Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones reading his own biography with bandmates Keith Richard and Bill Wyman.Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images
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Rappers Method Man, Nas, Kurios, and Redman posing together on Nov. 1, 1993, in New York City. Neither the Wu-Tang Clan nor Nas' debut albums had been released yet.Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives
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Tom Waits performing at a piano bar in 1970.Gems/Redferns/Getty Images
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A wild Justin Timberlake appears during an N'Sync showcase in London, England, in 1997. The band's debut album debuted in May of that year and catapulted them to boy band stardom. Fred Duval/FilmMagic/Getty Images
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Ozzy Osbourne traipsing through England in 1970 mere months before Black Sabbath's debut album hit the shelves. GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images
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Born Peter Hernandez, Bruno Mars started his career as an Elvis Presley impersonator. Seen here in 1990, he would go on to sell millions of records and win 15 Grammy Awards.Catherine McGann/Getty Images
33 Photos Of History’s Greatest Musicians Just Before They Made It Big
World-class musicians can not only captivate an audience's soul but move listeners to follow their dreams and pursue their true passions. But while the social media spotlight is often focused on their fame or riches, the humble lives of musicians when they were just starting out can be far more inspiring.
Eminem spent years flipping burgers before his underground efforts paid off and he became hip-hop royalty. John Lennon risked everything to become a star and practiced his craft without rest in Hamburg, Germany, before "Beatlemania" conquered the world by storm. And even Elvis Presley was dead broke — until he became a king.
These 33 vintage photos of musicians before they were famous transport us from the heyday of rock and roll to the rise of 1980s pop. From the punk scene and glam rock to the hip-hop legends that now mentor their proteges, these images are not only filled with nostalgia — but might inspire us to keep pushing.
Jimi Hendrix Before The Fame
Jimi Hendrix has long been synonymous with the word rockstar, and his legendary performance at Woodstock has endured for generations. But although he worked long and hard to get there, he was nearly lost in the fateful shuffle of artists trying to make it. Born Johnny Allen Hendrix on Nov. 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington, the future star had a terribly difficult childhood.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesJimi Hendrix (left) poses for a promotional photo while he worked as a backing guitarist for Curtis Knight and the Squires in 1965.
His mother Lucille was 17 years old when Hendrix was born. She and her husband Al had such a strained relationship that she abandoned her children and rarely visited. Hendrix was only 16 when she died. While his father gave him a guitar that year, he dropped out of school in 1959 — years before finding any success.
Determined to become a musician but pushed to follow in his father's footsteps, Hendrix enlisted in the United States Army in 1961. Not even the armed services kept him from pursuing his passion, however, as he formed a band called the King Kasuals with fellow soldiers.
But Hendrix's superiors soon realized that he wasn't cut out for the Army and discharged him in 1962. The autodidact subsequently became a backup musician for countless renowned artists, from Little Richard and B.B. King to Sam Cooke and the Isley Brothers. He spent years forging ahead with no recognition or notable income.
When he built a following in New York City and met manager Chas Chandler, however, he took to London and met his future bandmates. After forming the Jimi Hendrix Experience, he was being mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles and Rolling Stones — and released his first singles to international acclaim in 1967.
Madonna's Rise To A Global Icon
Before "Material Girl" and "Like a Virgin" made her an international superstar, Madonna was merely the third of six children in a working-class family of second-generation immigrants. Born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone on Aug. 16, 1958, in Bay City, Michigan, she later described her mother as "a religious zealot."
Brad Elterman/FilmMagicMadonna meets the press at the 1984 American Music Awards in Los Angeles, California.
Madonna was only five years old when her mother died of breast cancer in 1963. The 30-year-old had been diagnosed months earlier, but the treatment had to be delayed as she was pregnant with Madonna's baby sister. Madonna spent her teenage years rebelling against religion in an attempt to make sense of her loss.
"I think the biggest reason I was able to express myself and not be intimidated was by not having a mother," she said. "For example, mothers teach you manners. And I absolutely did not learn any of those rules and regulations."
When her father married the family's housekeeper, Madonna rebelled against her stepmother and religion alike. She broke free of her conservative life and started going to gay clubs and finding joy in dancing. After garnering a full scholarship to the University of Michigan dance program in 1976, Madonna had found her true purpose.
Her passions took her to New York City where Madonna discovered that singing was just as important to her. She formed numerous bands before signing a record contract in 1981 and finally broke into the industry with a self-titled debut album in 1983. It only took a few more months for the whole world to know her name.
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
Adam Farley is an Assistant Editor at All That's Interesting. He was previously content director of ShamrockGift.com and deputy editor of Irish America magazine. He holds an M.A. from New York University and a B.A. from the University of Washington.