NEW ARTICLE AND VIDEOS. Run-DMC, make way for Miley Cyrus. The world’s biggest music artists have helped make the A Very Special Christmas albums the most successful philanthropic series in history, but today it’s a new generation of stars taking up the mantle in support of the Special Olympics.
Vol. 7, which hits retail racks and online stores this week, features a who’s who of young artists like Miley Cyrus, Ashley Tisdale, Carrie Underwood, High School Musical‘s Vanessa Hudgens and Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester. In fact, more than half of the artists had yet to be born when the original album debuted 22 years ago. It would be impolite to name the oldest artist on Vol. 7, who’s still only 26, but Cyrus is the youngest contributor in the series’ history at age 16. Fittingly, she’ll celebrate her 17th birthday the same day the latest collection is released.
“[Vol. 7] is about the torch being passed to a new generation of artists, who now will be the leaders in sending the message around the world that Special Olympics is a movement of hope, acceptance and inclusion,” says Tim Shriver, CEO and Chairman of the Special Olympics. “It’s about extraordinarily gifted artists taking the torch.”
When the original Christmas disc debuted in ’87, the New York Times called it the “heaviest lineup of big-name rock talent” since “We Are the World.” The album boasted stars like Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Sting, the Pretenders, Stevie Nicks and Joshua Tree-era U2 each recording modern versions of holiday classics.
Remember Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis?” It cracked the Billboard charts in 2000, 13 years after it was released, but the song made its debut on the 1987 album. A Very Special Christmas has sold nearly 5 million copies to date and has since raised over $100 million in direct support for the Special Olympics through the Christmas Record Trust.
The newest album in the series features a younger generation of artists, but a wide variety of music styles are represented. Kellie Pickler sets the barn ablaze with a country version of “Santa Baby,” Sean Kingston gives the holidays an island twist with “Little Drummer Boy” and Kristinia DeBarge spices things up with “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Other contributors include Filipina YouTube sensation Charice and the youthful country band Gloriana, featuring Cheyenne Kimball of MTV reality show fame. Album producers include Greg Lapidus, Brian Phillips, Jay Frank and series co-founder Bobby Shriver.
Malibu-based singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat (pictured at right) opens the disc with ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.’ “My mom would always play A Very Special Christmas albums — like, we have all of them,” says Caillat, who was only 2 years old when the first disc came out. “We’d put them all in, we’d switch them out, we’d put them on random in this big disc changer and they’d all be playing. I honestly love them. They are my memories of Christmas.”
“It’s wild, you know what I mean, being a part of something that you grew up listening to and now you’re not just enjoying it but a part of it,” adds “Jingle Bell Rock” contributor Mitchel Musso, better known as Oliver Oken on Hannah Montana.
The album will be released through Universal Music Enterprises, and thanks to the generosity of everyone involved, all monies directly benefit the Special Olympics.
“Everything is donated,” says Shriver, who is the third child of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, J.F.K.’s younger sister and the founder of the Special Olympics. “The artists donate their time, the studios donate their time, the licenses are donated, the producers donate, the record companies donate. It’s an extraordinary testament to the good will of the people throughout the music industry. All of that results in every dollar, every single dollar, going to help Special Olympics athletes, their parents, volunteers come together in the spirit of sport.”
Deep Recording Roots
Though now a world-famous series, A Very Special Christmas began as the brainchild of Jimmy and Vicki Iovine. Jimmy, who’s often name-checked in Eminem songs (and not in a bad way either), broke into music as an engineer for legends like John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen (and later co-founded Interscope Records). His wife was volunteering for the Special Olympics, so when he decided to produce a Christmas benefit album as a memorial to his late father, she suggested the cause.
Herb Albert and Jerry Moss, the names behind A&M Records, provided the record label funding and distribution, while Tim’s older brother Bobby Shriver — an attorney, activist, politician, film producer and co-founder of (Product) Red, DATA and the ONE Campaign — signed on as producer and still serves as the series’ main constant. (For those wondering, Tim and Bobby’s sister is in fact California First Lady Maria Shriver.) These five founders recruited the biggest names in music to contribute songs, while the late Keith Haring designed the cover art that graces all the Christmas covers. The inaugural disc came out in late ’87, and five months later, A&M sent over the first royalty check — for $5 million.
After subsequent volumes in ’92 and ’97 with artists like Aretha Franklin and No Doubt, the series decided to mix things up with a live album. The Clintons threw a 30th anniversary party for the Special Olympics in ’99, and highlights of the concert became the basis for Vol. 4. Jon Bon Jovi, a former Christmas Record Trustee, played a major role in the live album and helped produce Vol. 5, while Lost Highway Records — fresh off its Grammy wins for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack — crafted a star-studded acoustic country disc for Vol. 6.
But that was six years ago. In the years since, there were specialized releases like 2006′s A Very Special Latin Christmas: Noche de Paz and 2007′s 20th Anniversary Music Video Collection DVD, but the new youth-led disc closes the longest gap between the main album series installments. Naturally, this skyrockets the anticipation for Vol. 7.
Hudgens, who recorded “Winter Wonderland” for the album, remarks, “It’s such an honor to be on the first A Very Special Christmas album since 2003 and I think it’s so great and so much fun; and who doesn’t love coming in and singing Christmas songs?”
Kingston adds, “I feel like it’s big, I’m happy to be a part of it. I can’t wait to see the end results.”
Special Olympics, Special Funding
The Special Olympics features over 3 million athletes in over 180 countries, and the Christmas series plays a major part in keeping that second number growing. Through the Christmas Record Trust, album sales help fund Special Olympics programs in countries like Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Uganda, Russia and China where there’s limited government support for the disabled. The proceeds also provide seed funding for programs in locations like Timor Leste, Cambodia, Laos and Lesotho. In fact, the UN designates a quarter of the places supported by the Trust as Least Developed Countries.
“Athletes in Rwanda who are running for the first time, athletes in Afghanistan, girls who are able to compete for the first time,” says Shriver of the Trust’s accomplishments. “Athletes in China who are getting the message that everyone counts for the first time. Athletes in the United States in cities like New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles who otherwise would be on the sidelines are on the field of play because of the extraordinary gifts and contributions of the leaders of the Very Special Christmas series.”
The Special Olympics website provides information on local programs where athletes can sign up and others can make donations. Even for those who can’t donate time or money, the site features something everyone can do: take the R-word pledge to stop “the hurtful and disparaging use of the word ‘retard.’” (I’m looking at you, Black Eyed Peas!)
Shriver explains, “Going to the website, getting involved personally, taking the R-word pledge by going to specialolympics.org or going to r-word.org, helping us eradicate hateful language from our lexicon, from our schools, from our workplaces, from our television and film studios.”
The Christmas series is special for so many reasons, but Vol. 7 is all the more special with a dedication to Eunice Shriver. The organization’s founder passed away in August, but her feelings toward all the series’ contributors is well known.
“I am full of admiration for the many artists who have helped us,” she said many years back. “It’s a great tribute that these men and women say to themselves, ‘I’ll use my talent to help others.’ It’s not easy because they’ve got so many demands on them and every charity wants them, but they’ve helped us and I’m very grateful.”
Now is your chance to contribute as well. Sure, you could dust off that Bing Crosby Christmas album, but not even naughty kids deserve that. Give A Very Special Christmas a spin instead. It won’t just make your kids happy; it’ll also help bring joy to special needs children around the world.
Charice – The Christmas Song
Video Courtesy of TheJannie5
O Holy Night – another holiday favorite
(this song is not in the album)
Video Courtesy of archiemr4
Promo video brought to you by SpecialOlympicsHQ
Vanessa Hudgens – Winter Wonderland
Miley Cyrus – Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
Sean Kingston – Little Drummer Boy
The Carter Twins – Let It Snow
Leighton Meester – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
Kellie Pickler – Santa Baby
Ashley Tisdale – Last Christmas
To buy your copy now and listen to album song samples, click HERE
Posted by Eve
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