© 2022 All Rights reserved WUSF
News, Jazz, NPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Behind Guaraldi's Timeless Holiday Soundtrack

CD Cover
/
/

On Tuesday night, ABC airs what is now a holiday tradition: the animated special A Charlie Brown Christmas, which first aired on CBS in 1965. The show's jazzy soundtrack is a familiar holiday staple, too — but Vince Guaraldi's classic score almost never made it on the air.

Lee Mendelson first paired Guaraldi's music with the Peanuts comic-strip characters for a television documentary about artist Charles Schulz and his pioneering strip.

Excited by the results in the documentary, Mendelson, Schulz and animator Bill Melendez set to work on a Christmas special that featured more of Guaraldi's music. But the network hated both the special and the music.

CBS "didn't think jazz fit properly," Mendelson recalls. The network also wanted professional child actors to do the voices of the characters, not the untrained youngsters Mendelson recruited.

He says the network also objected to the adult themes; they didn't think the topics of materialism and faith were appropriate for children.

Despite their concerns and after a few cosmetic changes, CBS aired the program. It was a hit.

Mendelson and Melendez went on to do 50 Charlie Brown specials, the most recent being last year's He's a Bully, Charlie Brown.

Guaraldi collaborated on 17 shows before he died suddenly at age 43 in 1976 — too early to see his songs become modern symbols of the holiday.

Guaraldi's soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas has never been out of print since it was released 41 years ago. This year, it has been re-released with bonus alternate takes of the classic songs.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Felix Contreras
Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.
WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.