Who Wrote Happy Birthday?

Spring is the time of birthdays in the Webner family.  Today is the birthday of one very special person, and Happy Birthday will be sung with gusto.

Everyone knows Happy Birthday and has sung it hundreds of times — for family members, schoolmates, co-workers, and friends — but who wrote it?

The melody for Happy Birthday comes from the children’s song Good Morning to All, written in 1893 by American sisters Patty and Mildred Hill.  Patty was a school principal in Kentucky, and the song was designed to be sung by schoolchildren.  The lyrics were:  “Good morning to you, Good morning to you, Good morning, dear Children, Good Morning to All.”  It’s easy to imagine a classroom of rambunctious turn-of-the-century kids singing that song at the start of the school day.

At some point lost in the mists of time — but probably not too long after Good Morning to All was first sung — someone substituted the familiar lyrics of Happy Birthday.  The combination of lyrics and melody apparently first appeared in print in 1912.  Happy Birthday was copyrighted more than two decades later, in 1935.  The validity of its copyright has been the subject of legal commentary and even a mention in the dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court case Eldred v. Ashcroft, but the copyright issue has caused filmmakers whose movies include a birthday scene to either pay a royalty or substitute For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow instead.

Most people consider Happy Birthday to be the best known and most frequently sung song in the world.  It’s fun to belt out, too.