Good Grief! It was 50 years ago!
On December 9, 1965, a seminal Christmas tradition was unwittingly created when “A Charlie Brown Christmas” first aired on CBS.
Unlike other Christmas classics – such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” – it was also the music of the Charlie Brown classic that also became its own iconic contribution to the holiday season.
Sure, the show was groundbreaking because the producers used children to voice the characters and also blended kid-based humor with adult themes. But it was the use of jazz music on the soundtrack that was equally revolutionary. The effortless swing of both “Linus and Lucy” and “Skating” introduced millions of young viewers to jazz for the first time — perhaps maybe even encouraged reluctant young Schroeders to take their piano lessons a little more seriously.
Pianist Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976) had composed music for a television documentary called “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” which included the future classic “Linus and Lucy.” While that special never aired, the music was released on a 1964 album “Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown.”
When the idea of a Christmas special was initially being considered, Guaraldi was brought back on board to write music for a new television show. The creators recycled “Linus and Lucy” and had Guaraldi compose two new pieces: “Skating” and “Christmas Time Is Here.”
A Charlie Brown Christmas’s soundtrack album, with its mixture of traditional Christmas music and Guaraldi’s originals, has sold more than three million copies. It is one of the top 10 best-selling holiday albums of all time.
Within ten years, Guaraldi had effectively become the official composer of Peanuts’ television specials, writing music for 17 of them, as well as for the 1969 theatrical release “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.” On February 6th, 1976, he completed recording the soundtrack for “It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown.” Later that evening he died of a heart attack in between sets he was playing at Butterfield’s Nightclub in Menlo Park, California. He was 47.
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