Dayve Rampas
Dayve Rampas

History of Birthday Song

The very popular ‘Happy Birthday to You’ song has become an indispensable part of birthday celebrations across the world. Today, the song is over a hundred years old. The story of the song has a sweet beginning though later it was bogged by controversy. It is still not certain who wrote the lyrics of the song ‘Happy Birthday to You’.

History of the Happy Birthday Song
Happy Birthday song is considered to be a joint work of two American sisters, Mildred J. Hill who was schoolteachers in Louisville Kentucky Experimental Kindergarten and Dr Patty Smith Hill who was a Principal in the same school. The song that was originally composed by two sisters was entitled ‘Good Morning to All’ but bore the recognizable melody. The tune of the song was first published in 1893 in the book, ‘Song Stories for the Kindergarten’. It credited Patty Hill for the lyrics and Mildred Hill for the music. Over the years the song became extremely popular in schools across US. The melody of this song is passed into the public domain and it is therefore safe to hum in public without permission.
Controversy over the Lyrics
It is said that some forty years later, Patty Hill came up with the words, ‘Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday Dear name, Happy Birthday to You’. She also fit those words into the melody of ‘Good Morning to All’ song. The entire song was published in 1935.
There is one more version to this story. Some says 31 years after, ‘Good Morning to All’ song was published, Dr Patty Hill became the head of the Department of Kindergarten Education at Columbia University’s Teacher College. At that time a gentleman, Robert H. Coleman published that song, without the sisters’ permission. Besides, Coleman added a second verse, the now popular ‘Happy Birthday to You’.
Popularity of the Birthday Song
The addition of Birthday verse popularized the song and over the years ‘Good Morning to All’ verse composed by Hill sisters disappeared. The Birthday Song gained popularity in late 1930s when it was sung in ‘As Thousands Cheer’ – a Broadway Production. Today, the Guinness Book of World Records recognizes ‘Happy Birthday to You’ as one of the three most popular songs in English language. The other two being ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’ The Birthday Song is popular all over the world and has been translated into dozens of languages. English version of the song is more popular and is sung even where English is not a primary language.
Legal Battle over the Copyright
After Mildred died in 1916, Dr Patty along with her third sister Jessica took Coleman to court over the copyright issue of the song. It was proved in the court that Mildred and Patty own the melody. Thus the family became the legal owner of the song and was thus entitled to royalties from it whenever it is sung for commercial purpose. Ownership of the song swapped hands in a multi-million dollar deal. The current copyright of the song is owned by Warner Communications. They purchased the copyright in 1989 for more than $28 million dollars. The copyright of the song has been extended several times and is now not due to expiring until at least 2030.
It therefore follows that one cannot use the “Happy Birthday to You” lyrics for profit without paying royalties. In other words unauthorized public performances of the song are technically illegal. It means that every time you hear the song sung on TV or radio it means the royalties are being paid to the Warner Communications.
To prevent themselves from the prevention of copyright infringement and having to pay royalties several restaurants and TV channels have corporate-developed songs that are used instead of “Happy Birthday to You”.
Popular rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ Song
  • ‘Happy Birthday’ was the first song to be performed in outer space. It was sung by the Apollo IX astronauts on March 8, 1969.
  • Famous Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe’s rendition to U.S. President John F. Kennedy in May 1962 is considered to be the most famous performances of ‘Happy Birthday to You’ song.
Lyrics of the Songs

‘Good Morning to All’ lyrics
Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning, dear children,
Good morning to all.

‘Happy Birthday to You’ lyrics
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear (name)
Happy Birthday to you.
This traditional version of the song generally known is actually the chorus to the original. The first verse goes like this…
So today is your birthday
That’s what I’ve been told
What a wonderful birthday
Now you’re one more year old
On your cake there’ll be candles
All lighted, it’s true
While the whole world is singing
Happy Birthday to you ….
(Happy Birthday chorus)
Some add another phrase to the end, sung to the same tune:
How old are you now,
How old are you now,
How old are you (name),
How old are you now.
And another version:
From old friends and true,
From good friends and new,
May good luck go with you,
And happiness too.
Many alternate versions exist, most commonly sung as a joke, for example:
Happy Birthday to you,
You live/belong in a /Zoo>oo,
You look like a monkey
And you smell like one, too.
Other versions of the above:
Happy Birthday to you,
I went to the zoo,
I saw a big monkey,
And I thought it was you.
Happy Birthday to you
You live/belong in a zoo,
You look like a goat
And you chew like one, too
p.s. Don’t ask me where the “heaven” did I get this one… Someone just sent it into my mailbox…

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