Thursday March 4, 2021 Smile of the Day: Happy Birthday To You Song

On this Day:

On this day in 1924, “Happy Birthday To You” was published by Claydon Sunny Company.  But who wrote it and who held the copyright, if at all?

Happy Birthday to You”, also known as “Happy Birthday”, is a song traditionally sung to celebrate a person’s birthday. According to the 1998 Guinness World Records, it is the most recognized song in the English language, followed by “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”. The song’s base lyrics have been translated into at least 18 languages. The melody of “Happy Birthday to You” comes from the song “Good Morning to All”, which has traditionally been attributed to American sisters Patty and Mildred J. Hill in 1893, although the claim that the sisters composed the tune is disputed.

The song is in the public domain in the United States and the European Union. Warner Chappell Music had previously claimed copyright on the song in the US and collected licensing fees for its use; in 2015 the copyright claim was declared invalid and Warner Chappell agreed to pay back $14 million in licensing fees. (per Wikipedia).

According to

The song “Happy Birthday to You” has become a classic, sung at birthday parties around the world. But the song did not start out as an ode to the annual celebration of birthdays, and the song’s writers didn’t originally get credit.

The Guinness Book of World Records ranks “Happy Birthday to You” as the most recognizable song in English. It’s been translated into at least two dozen languages. Here’s the story behind the “Happy Birthday to You” song. 

The melody and lyrics of “Happy Birthday to You” were written by sisters Mildred J. Hill (1859-1916) and Patty Smith Hill (1868-1946). Patty was a schoolteacher who developed the Patty Hill blocks which were building blocks used as educational tools. She also was a faculty member at Columbia University Teachers College and was one of the founders of the National Association for Nursery Education, which was later renamed the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Mildred also was an educator who later became a composer, organist, and pianist. 

The melody was composed by Mildred and the lyrics were written by Patty, but it was originally for a classroom greeting song titled “Good Morning to All,” intended to be a daily classroom greeting for small children.

The song “Good Morning to All” was part of the book “Song Stories for the Kindergarten” which the sisters co-wrote and published in 1893.

It is still unclear who changed the lyrics that turned it into a birthday song, but it was first published in 1924 in a book edited by Robert H. Coleman. The song became popular and in 1934, Jessica Hill, Mildred and Patty’s sister, filed a lawsuit. She claimed the use of the “Good Morning to You” melody in “Happy Birthday to You” was unauthorized. In 1935, Jessica, who was working with publisher Clayton F. Summy Company, copyrighted and published “Happy Birthday to You.”

In the 1930s, the Clayton F. Summy Company was bought by John F. Sengstack and renamed Birch Tree Ltd. In 1998, Birch Tree Ltd was in turn bought by Warner Chappell for $25 million in 1988. 

Warner Chappell tried to argue that the copyright for the song in the U.S. would not expire until 2030, making unauthorized performances of the song illegal. 

In 2013, Warner Chappell was sued for claiming false copyright on “Happy Birthday to You.” A federal judge ruled in 2015 that Warner Chappell’s claim to a copyright on the song was not valid. Its registration, the judge ruled, only covered a specific piano version, not the melody and lyrics. 

Warner Chappell settled the case for $14 million in 2016, with the court ruling that “Happy Birthday to You” was, in fact, in the public domain, and that performances of the song were not subject to royalties or otherwise restricted.

First, a Story:

This whole birthday thing is getting old, don’t you think?

Second, a Song:

Jonny May describes himself on 

“Hi, I’m Jonny May.

Teaching piano is one of my greatest joys, and over the past 15 years, I’ve helped over ten thousand students take their piano playing to the next level. With my unique style-based learning approach, I’ve guided complete beginners to full-time professionals in my online courses and live learning events.

I believe it’s important to make learning the piano fun from the start. This is something I learned from performing as the Main Street Disneyland Pianist for over 9 years, and from entertaining over 30 million people with my Youtube Videos. I can’t wait to show you what you’re capable of. – Jonny May”

Here is Jonny May performing Happy Birthday.  Count the number of music styles in this arrangement.  There is a list of them and where they change in the song in the comments section for the YouTube video.  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Did you know you’re supposed to soap and scrub for as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice?” – Faith Salie

Well, the Helen Keller Smile certainly resonated with many of you!

Here are your comments:

From Russ Waugh of Gimli, Manitoba, Canada:

“Hi Dave, not many soldiers, police and many trades people escape some hearing and sight impairment.  Now with the other noises around us and our children (music, games, traffic  and other loud/bright electronics) we will likely have many with hearing and sight problems. Stay safe.   Russ”

Trish Shwart of Victoria, BC, Canada:

“Good one David. Thanks.  Trish Shwart”

Sandy Weams of Campbell River, BC, Canada:

“Thank you David. I loved the Miracle Worker, The acting community still struggles with having deaf and blind actors authentically play these roles. Marlee Matlin, a deaf actor who won an Oscar for Children of a Lesser God in 1987, is trying to change that with her new film that she is producing called “Feeling Through.” It stars a first time actor who is deaf and blind. He was working in the kitchen at the Helen Keller National Centre before being discovered. I’m looking forward to seeing the film. Cheers, Sandy”

and last but certainly not least, Adele Clarke of Surrey, BC, Canada:

“Hi David. I found this posting to be uplifting and the movie clip was very touching. I have a family member who struggles to communicate because of a disability so that scene resonated with me. It seems that people often cannot see past the disability to the real person within but how rewarding it is for both sides when that does happen.

Thanks for providing us with a smile, info, music and inspiration! Adele”

Have a great day!

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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