Guaraldi once described himself as "reformed boogie-woogie piano player." Later dubbed "Dr. Funk" by some of his colleagues, Guaraldi got his first real break playing at the Black Hawk Nightclub during intermissions, filling in for the legendary Art Tatum. Guaraldi also played for a time with the Cal Tjader trio, which he later left to pursue projects of his own. One of these projects was his album Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, for which he covered several Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfá tunes, inspired by the French/Brazilian movie Black Orpheus. The first single, "Samba de Orpheus," did very poorly; then a few enterprising DJs started flipping the record over to the B-side and playing "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," which Guaraldi himself had penned while trying to fill in a gap between covers for the album. The tune was unlike anything currently on the airwaves and gained rapidly in popularity, and was ultimately awarded the 1962 Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition. Guaraldi's success snowballed from there.
Guaraldi became affiliated with the Peanuts Franchise when Lee Mendelson, later the executive producer of all the Peanuts TV specials, was looking for some music to underscore a Peanuts documentary he'd been working on. Mendelson heard "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" on the radio while traveling across the Golden Gate Bridge in a taxi cab. Mendelson contacted Guaraldi, suggesting he score the upcoming Peanuts Christmas Special. Guaraldi happily agreed, playing the first-ever version of "Linus and Lucy" for Mendelson over the phone, merely two weeks later. Guaraldi went on to score all 17 Peanuts specials and the feature film A Boy Named Charlie Brown, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music Scoring.
Guaraldi died suddenly in 1976 at age 47 of a heart attack or aneurysm, after having just finished recording the music for It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown. He had also just dined with Mendelson the night before. "Linus and Lucy" was played at his funeral, along with some of the other Charlie Brown music he had written.
Guaraldi's music continues to live on, especially every year at Christmas and through the covers of other artists such as George Winston. Jon Hendricks, poet laureate of jazz, once wrote: "Vince is what you call a piano player. That's different from a pianist. A pianist can play anything you can put in front of him. A piano player can play anything BEFORE you can put it in front of him." I couldn't agree more.