Today is Happy Birthday to You Day. On this date in 1893, teachers (and sisters) Mildred and Patty Hill composed a tune and lyrics for kindergarten students to sing before starting their school day. It was called “Good Morning to All” and used the music we now recognize as “Happy Birthday to You.”
Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning dear children
Good morning to all.
It was published that year in Song Stories for the Kindergarten. A few years later the lyrics were modified and the first note split to reflect the two syllables of Happy. Copyrights for that second version have been sold many times over the years. Many have complained that a song almost 125 years old should be in the public domain.
In 1996, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the industry’s main professional guild, sent letters to 6,000 Girl Scout camps demanding payment of fees for the singing of “Happy Birthday to You,” and “God Bless America,” among others. ASCAP’s director of licensing later apologized, saying, “What we were really chasing here…was going after the summer camps that are really like sending your kids to a resort.”
On August 5, 2013, scientists sent special instructions to the Mars Rover Curiosity’s surface sampling device. The apparatus, which employs a sound transducer at the business end to help it more easily penetrate a variety of soils and clays, audibly “hummed” Happy Birthday to You in celebration of its first year on the surface of a planet an average of 140 million miles away from Earth. NASA paid a royalty fee.
Fights over the validity of copyrights continued until June 27, 2016, when a judge affirmed a $14 million class-action judgment against Warner/Chappell Music, which had purchased the copyright in 1988. Poetic justice? Perhaps. Estimates that the company has made at least $2 million in fees per year since acquiring it rendered the penalty more poetic than just.
At least, we can all sing happy birthday without having to pay a toll. But what about this other schoolyard favorite:
Happy birthday to you,
You live in a zoo,
You look like a monkey
You act like one too.
That one might cost you.