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Happy Birthday

by

Traditional



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song was written by two sisters from Kentucky: Mildred Hill and Patty Hill. They both taught nursery school and/or kindergarten. Patty invented the "Patty Hill blocks" used in schools nationwide, and served on the faculty of the Columbia University Teachers College for thirty years. Mildred, who was the older sister, studied music and became an expert on Negro spirituals. In 1893, while Mildred was teaching at the Louisville Experimental Kindergarten School where her sister served as principal, she came up with the melody to this song. Patty added some lyrics and it became a song called "Good Morning to All," which was a way for teachers to greet students. Here are the original lyrics:
Good morning to you
Good morning to you
Good morning, dear children
Good morning to all.
Later in 1893, the song was published in the songbook Song Stories For The Kindergarten, and other schools started singing it. After a while, it became more popular for kids to sing it to teachers, and the song became commonly known as "Good Morning To You," since the third line could be changed to fit the subject.
It's unclear who wrote the words "Happy Birthday To You," but the lyrics first appeared in a songbook in 1924, where they were published as a second stanza to "Good Morning to You." Various movies and radio shows started using the song as a birthday greeting, and "Good Morning To You" morphed into "Happy Birthday To You." It was used in the 1931 Broadway musical The Band Wagon and was part of Western Union's first "singing telegram" in 1933. It was also used in the Irving Berlin musical As Thousands Cheer. The Hill sisters were not compensated for use of "Happy Birthday To You," so their other sister Jessica filed suit to prove that "Happy Birthday To You" was their song with different lyrics. The court agreed and gave the Hill sisters the copyright to "Happy Birthday To You" in 1934, which meant that anytime it was used in a movie, radio program, or other performance, the Mildred and Patty Hill were compensated. (In the case of Mildred, her estate was compensated, since she died in 1916.)
The Clayton F. Summy Company, working with Jessica Hill, published and copyrighted "Happy Birthday" in 1935. Under the laws in effect at the time, the Hills' copyright would have expired after one 28-year term and a renewal of similar length, falling into public domain by 1991. However, the Copyright Act of 1976 extended the term of copyright protection to 75 years from date of publication, and the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 added another 20 years, so under current law the copyright protection of "Happy Birthday" will remain intact until at least 2030.
Warner Chappell, the largest music publishing company in the world, got the rights to this song when they bought what was The Clayton F. Summy Company in 1998 for a reported price of $25 million. They spun off the company as Summy-Birchard Music, which is now a part of Time Warner. The song brings in about $2 million in royalties every year, with the proceeds split between Summy-Birchard and the Hill Foundation. Both Hill sisters died unmarried and childless, so their share of the royalties have presumably been going to charity or to nephew Archibald Hill ever since Patty Hill passed away in 1946.
If you sing this at a birthday party, you do not have to pay royalties, but anytime it is performed in public in front of a large gathering of people (like at a concert) or broadcast, a performance license is required. This is normally issued in the US by three companies: ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. The Hill Foundation is a member of ASCAP.

Companies that are required by law to have performance licenses operate radio stations, TV stations, concert venues, and restaurants and other retail outlets over a certain size where music is played. A blanket deal with ASCAP means these venues can sing "Happy Birthday" as much as they'd like, but many outlets don't have such a deal, which is where it gets tricky.

Some TV networks, for instance, clear songs on an individual basis, so if a host decides to serenade an audience member with "Happy Birthday," the station is on the hook, and ASCAP can send them a bill for pretty much any amount they deem reasonable. Broadcasters in these situations are under strict orders NOT to sing it. You'll also notice that many restaurants have their own birthday songs - this is done in large part to avoid legal trouble.
In a 1989 Time Magazine article, this was one of the three most popular songs in the English language, along with "Auld Lang Syne" and "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow." (thanks, Jimmy - Bronxville, NY)
It was rumored that Paul McCartney owned the rights to this song. McCartney bought the publishing rights to a lot of songs (including most of Buddy Holly's), but he does not own this one.
One of the most famous performances of this song was Marilyn Monroe's rendition to US President John F. Kennedy in May 1962 at Madison Square Garden. Monroe was accompanied on the piano by jazz pianist Hank Jones who recalled in a 2005 interview on National Public Radio: "She did 16 bars: eight bars of 'Happy Birthday to You' and eight bars of 'Thanks for the Memories. So in 16 bars, we rehearsed eight hours. She was very nervous and upset. She wasn't used to that kind of thing. And, I guess, who wouldn't be nervous singing 'Happy Birthday' to the president?"
In our interview with Tom Gabel of Against Me!, he told us: "If I could have written any song in the world it would have been 'Happy Birthday.' It's the only song that groups of people annually sing specifically for someone specifically in an attempt to make them feel special. It's a completely unique song and it's ubiquitous."
This was named the highest-earning song of all time in the documentary The Richest Songs In The World, which aired on BBC Four on December 28, 2012. Runner-up was Irving Berlin's "White Christmas."
This was the first song to be performed in outer space. On March 8, 1969, the astronauts on Apollo IX sang it to celebrate the birthday of Christopher Kraft, who at that time was director of NASA space operations.
Traditional
More Traditional songs
More songs written for birthdays

Comments (14):

This song was sang lots of times at birthday parties when me and my brothers and sister were little. During our elementary and high school days, the kids in school would come up with their own lyrics to the music; which would go : "Happy Birthday to you. You live in a zoo. You act like a monkey ; And you look like one, too." lol. A very childdish , but rather stupid way of singing the song.
- Chomper, Northampton County, PA
Emily, i am so used to the same thing ...not that i know you or anything :D
- Elizabeth, anytown, IL
It's interesting that first come first serve has been the way of life. I'm sure this song has been copyrighted and passed down through the generations.
The larger the crowd, the more an expected royalty. My sister always privately sings this to me on my birthday and ads "and many more". Not to infringe on the copyright it perhaps is the most sung song ever written.
- Michael Scott, Punta Gorda, FL
This song is copywrited??? I don't think it matters though, I doubt the owners would sue anybody for this.

My mom used to sing "Good Morning To You" to me...I ate breakfast to it all the time.

I was really surprised songfacts had this...but, whatever, it's a good song. Happy birthday to everyone out there who happens to read this on their birthday!!!
- Emily, Around Chicago, IL
You know what I don't understand? I don't understand why this song is still copyrighted. I can't believe it! Why would a song like this still be copyrighted, when in fact it's over 100 years old? Songs like this that are over 100 years old, and even older, should at least be in the public domain. I mean, look at some of the classical symphonies that were written in the 1600's. You don't see copyright trademarks on those pieces of music nowadays, do you?
- Annabelle, Eugene, OR
Happy Birthday to You is the B-side of A Very Merry Unbirthday to You, the song from Disney's Alice in Wonderland
- Lester, New York City, NY
hello retards!!!
- Mike, petersham, MA
This would mean that royalties were paid to the Hill estate when Marilyn Monroe sang her sultry "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" for Jack Kennedy in May of '62. Marilyn herself paid $1000 to get into that event.
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
They don't have a right to your celebration. You don't have to get copyrighted permission to throw a party for someone's birthday, or to sing the song to tha person individually, or as a small group. You do have to have permission, however, if you're going to perform the song at a large concert, or any event where you made a profit for one reason or the other, and that song was part of the profit. It's like singing any other song. If you sing a Simon & Garfunkel song to your child as a lullabye, it's not copyright infringement. But, if you record the song on a CD and sell it, without their permission, it is. It's just a song that celebrates an event that occurs in everyone's life. Singing that song privately is just as safe as singing a Christmas carol privately, or like I mentioned before, singing a Simon & Garfunkel song privately.
- Patrick, Tallapoosa, GA
Paul McCartney may own a lot of songs, but he doesn't own any of the Beatles songs... Michael Jackson does.
- Fremont, Concord, NH
lol kinda funny seeing this song on this site. but it's sweet lol every's gotta love this song!
- Corrie, Calgary, Canada
the song makes me embarressed but it is happy and joyus.
- Tom, Boston, MA
everyone has a birthday and hopefully they are all happy. how rediculous that someone has the rights to someones birthday celebrations
- Maureen Gallagher, belfast, Ireland
Actually, Coleman only wrote the lyrics. The tune was written by a pair of kindergarten teachers in the late 1800s or early 1900s and was called "Good Morning To You". Their family still owns the rights to the tune.
- Matt, Saugus, MA
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