About A Very Special Christmas

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Bobby Shriver, Jimmy Iovine, Vicky Iovine, Herb Ritts and Special Olympics athletes wearing santa hats

For 35 years, “A Very Special Christmas” albums have been the inspiring place for history-making holiday songs—bringing joy throughout the world in so many ways.

Music producer Jimmy Iovine created the albums as a tribute to his beloved father, a man who loved Christmas but had passed away over the holidays. Jimmy and his wife Vicki wanted to honor his spirit. This loving tribute turned out to be the greatest Christmas album ever made.

To get things started, Vicki called her friend Bobby Shriver. Turned out they had met at a touch football game Bobby organized every weekend in Santa Monica, California, USA. She figured he was a good organizer. She was right.

There was something else unique about this album project: the artists wouldn’t be getting paid for their work. Instead, Jimmy and Vicki wanted the earnings to go to an important cause, Special Olympics.

Jimmy, Vicki, and Bobby spent most of 1986 and all of 1987 organizing, cajoling, recording, begging, and re-recording the songs. Vicki’s brother, Greg, manned the phones in the tiny A&M Records office.

No one thought they would get it done. They were wrong.

Success from the Start

The first “A Very Special Christmas” album – featuring Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Run-D.M.C., U2, and many others -- was released on Oct. 12, 1987. The New York Times wrote that the album had “the heaviest lineup of big-name rock talent to appear on any record since ‘We Are the World.’”

MTV played the Run-D.M.C. and U2 music videos non-stop. A&M Records organized play on radio stations everywhere. The result? The album sold millions during the 1987 Christmas season. Every Christmas party had a copy in heavy rotation.

The success, both financially and musically, was simply stunning. As one contributor put it: “Who knew this cause could bring together so many great artists, recording what turned out to be Christmas classics?!” Now we all know.

Legacy & Changing Lives Through Music

Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert, the owners of A&M Records, made sure all the money went to Special Olympics. Bobby’s mother, Special Olympics Founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, took over the task of how to invest in Special Olympics Programs. She focused on the most disadvantaged parts of the world, saying often that “it’s not going to become someone’s overhead money.” She made sure that the Programs in most desperate need got the Christmas cash.

Twelve albums later, millions (and millions) of dollars have been raised to help children and adults with intellectual disabilities around the globe, building a more inclusive and welcoming world for all of us.

Iconic Album Art

The fantastic mother and child drawing on the first album cover was created by Keith Haring. Jeff Gold, head of A&M Records art department, suggested him. Bobby took a ride down to Keith Haring’s New York City studio and told him the “A Very Special Christmas” story. About a week later, Keith’s amazing image of a modern Madonna arrived.

The iconic art has been featured – in a variety of colors – on every subsequent album.