The most recognizable song in the world has fascinating roots in the Bluegrass State.

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Louisville, Kentucky 1893

In 1893 a kindergarten teacher and principal in Louisville would team up with her oldest sister to write a song that we'd still be singing decades later.  This is a song you definitely know as it's sung every year on your birthday.  Of course, the song I'm referring to is Happy Birthday.

Patty Smith Hill and Mildred Jane Hill

Although it has been contested over the years, the general consensus seems to be that the song 'Happy Birthday to You' was created by the Hill sisters.  Patty Smith Hill was a kindergarten teacher and principal at a school in Louisville.  Patty's older sister, Mildred Jane Hill was a pianist and composer.  Together they came up with a song that could serve as a special greeting for students starting the school day.

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash
Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash
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According to Readers Digest, the original version of the song went:

Good morning to you,

Good morning to you,

Good morning, dear children,

Good morning to all.

The song was created as a part of the sisters' project to create music that was simple for children to enjoy.  According to Galaxy Music Notes the song was published in a book called Song Stories for the Kindergarten that same year.

The Song Morphs Into Happy Birthday

The song 'Happy Birthday to You' is one we can all sing at the drop of a hat, it's simple, and to the point.

Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday dear ____

Happy birthday to you.

'Happy Birthday to You' was even named the most recognized song in the English language by the Guinness Book of World Records.  So when did the lyrics change from "Good Morning to all" to "Happy Birthday to you?"

Photo by Lan Gao on Unsplash
Photo by Lan Gao on Unsplash
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Well, according to Reader's Digest, this is where things get a bit confusing, and legal battles come into play.  The tune of the song was published in a piano manufacturer's songbook in 1912 with the lyrics for "Happy Birthday to You" accompanying the tune.   It was published a couple more times with the "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics and eventually, the song ended up on Broadway in 1931.

 After The Birthday Song cropped up in the 1931 Broadway musical The Band Wagon and, two years later, the musical As Thousands Cheer, Patty and Mildred’s sister Jessica took legal action. In 1934 and 1935, with the Hill family’s blessing, the Clayton F. Summy Co. published and copyrighted all six versions of Happy Birthday To You (HBTY), crediting Mildred and Patty as the authors.

The 'Happy Birthday to You' song has a fascinating history, and Reader's Digest dives into the full history of the song, which you can read here.

A Kentucky Legacy

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For more than a century folks have been gathering around cakes and singing the classic tune that originated in the Bluegrass State and I think that's pretty cool.  If you ever want to pay your respects to the writers of 'Happy Birthday to You' you can visit their graves at Cave Hill Cemetery in Kentucky.

 

 

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