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History of the 'Happy Birthday' Song
Is it a myth or a farce?
Amin George Forji (amingeorge)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-06-06 20:00 (KST)   
The Guinness Book Of World Records has it that the "Happy Birthday to You" song is the most popular song ever in the English speaking world. Although it has been translated into almost every living language, it is still sung with the English lyrics in non-English speaking countries. The same publication puts "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and "Auld Lang Syne" at second and third places, respectively.

©2006 Aron Kremer
Every birthday party the world over observes certain established formalities. These include: the birthday cake, candles, wine, and most importantly a performance of "Happy Birthday to You." The wordings are familiar to everyone and the song itself is soft and painless. Despite the familiarity of it's lyrics, their author remains a myth.

"Happy Birthday to You" is dedicated only once to any person in a year. Yet, it has been said that it is the most frequently sung song anywhere in the world. There is no effective data to corroborate this claim, considering that national anthems are sung on a daily basis in almost every corner of every country.

A convincing argument for the claim is that it is the only song (at least the same song) that has been sung on land, in water, and in space. It is also one of the only songs that knows no boundaries, status or classes -- it is sung to the rich, the poor, presidents and paupers alike.

So where does "Happy Birthday to You" come from? Who wrote it, and why? The history of the original melody is generally traced to two American sisters Patty and Mildred Hill in 1893. At the time, they were school teachers based in Louisville, Kentucky. But the question remains -- was it "Happy Birthday to You"? The answer is no.

The two sisters, renowned for their smiles, intended to create a more lively and friendly atmosphere in their school. So, they wrote the song "Good Morning to All," with the hope that it would get every child positively involved as they begin a new day. "Good Morning to All" soon became the official morning greeting song in classrooms across America.

Comparing 'Good Morning To All' and 'Happy Birthday To You'

1) Happy Birthday To You

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear (name),
Happy birthday to you.

How old are you now,
How old are you now,
How old are you (name),
How old are you now?
Many more may you have,
Many more may you have,
Many more happy birthdays,
Many more may you have.
The birthday boy or girl then responds:
I thank you dear friends,
I thank you dear friends,
For all your kind wishes,
I thank you dear friends.

2) Good Morning To All Lyrics

Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning, dear children,
Good morning to all.
What is the correlation then between "Good Morning to All" and "Happy Birthday to You"? A quick answer to that is that no one knows for sure, who wrote the "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics. The most convincing belief until now has been that it must have been some poor person wanting to keep his identity secret for fear of copyright claims.

Although it had featured for sometime in unidentified flyers across America, usually sold for a few cents, it was not until 1924 that it was officially published in a songbook edited by Robert H. Coleman. At the time, it was just another verse of the "Good Morning to All." The song became a bestseller, mostly thanks to "Happy Birthday To You." The song was re-written for local tabloids, and it was frequently played on radio.

In 1935, Summy Company copyrighted the song in the version we know today, following an arrangement by Preston Ware Orem. That right is scheduled to expire in 2030. This was the first copyright version of "Happy Birthday to You" (note--not "Good Morning to All").

The Hill family was not happy that others were making millions out of their inspiration without any compensation or recognition. As a result, they brought several claims against alleged perpetrators, and in 1934 they won a historic lawsuit for infringement. They proceeded to also register the "Happy Birthday to You" copyright in 1935, after Summy company.

It was still debatable whether the lyrics of "Good Morning to All" and "Happy Birthday to You" were the same -- legally speaking. Well,the long and short of it is that they are identical.

In 1990, another company Warner Chappell bought the company holding the "Happy Birthday to You" copyright for $15 million. "Happy Birthday to You" itself was estimated to cost $6 million. Ever since, Warner has claimed that there can be no public performance of the song anywhere in the world except when they are paid adequate royalties.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Amin George Forji

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