Ken Tucker explains why she ranked ahead of Sinatra

By Ken Tucker
November 16, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Madonna’s detractors protest EW’s list of Greatest Entertainers

Over the past week, I’ve received a considerable amount of mail, e-mail, and voice mail about my Madonna entry in EW’s recent 100 Greatest Entertainers package. Do I need to say that all of it was negative? I knew, going into the assignment, that Madonna stirs up strong feelings and that, while her fans tend (in my experience) to be silent in their support, her detractors are an angry, bitter lot. My favorite phone message was left by a woman who informed me, her voice dripping with condescension, that I’d been ”taken in” by this ”phony” who ”steals from so many people.”

The call was anonymous, which always suggests to me that the accuser sorta knows that her or his charges won’t stand up to debate. Had this woman left her name and number, I could have asked how she knew Madonna’s true personality was phony — as opposed to the ”authenticity” of, I don’t know, Tom Hanks or Bruce Springsteen? I don’t know any of these celebs, so how could I know if one’s a phony or another isn’t? As for the theft of ideas from other performers, I believe this is what’s been known for quite a few decades now as appropriating innovations for one’s own purposes. I dare you to cite one person on ANY list of great entertainers who hasn’t been influenced by someone else. Even Frank Sinatra told anyone who’d listen that he learned how to phrase into a microphone by listening to Bing Crosby, and he patterned his breathing techniques on Tommy Dorsey’s trombone playing.

Which, by the way, was the other big complaint I got: HOW COULD I RATE MADONNA OVER SINATRA? (Madonna was #5; Sinatra #6.) Dear readers, so many of you possess such a touching belief in the power of the lowly writer. Allow me to clue you in: I was but one small vote in an entire magazine-wide referendum on that list; my assignment was to write about Madonna (an assignment I volunteered for and relished), but as far as her ranking goes, please take your angry, often rude and usually anonymous communications elsewhere.

If that list had been drawn up solely by me, lemme tell ya: James Brown and Matt Groening would have been higher, Marilyn Monroe a lot lower, and I probably would have handed the No. 1 slot to George Clinton. It’s what they call a difference in taste, and it makes for good discussions — that is, when people want to discuss, not just throw insults and run.