Who Wrote ‘Happy Birthday’?

Photo by Pixabay

Most musicologists who’ve traced the origins of “Happy Birthday” agree that its musical score dates back to the work of two Kentucky sisters in the late 19th century: Mildred Jane Hill (b.1859), and Patty Smith Hill (b.1868).

After graduating as valedictorian of Louisville Collegiate Institute, Patty went on to be a central figure in the progressive education movement, endorsing hands-on learning techniques and interactive teaching methods. She invented “Patty Hill Blocks” — a set of large, cardboard bricks that children could use to learn about structural engineering — and then founded the Institute of Child Welfare Research at Columbia University Teachers College.

In 1889, while serving as a kindergarten teacher at a Kentucky grade school, she began working on a set of childrens’ songs with her older sister Mildred, a well-known organist, composer, and “Negro music” scholar. Four years later, the two released their first collection of tunes in a book titled “Song Stories for the Kindergarten.” Among the songs, was a little ditty entitled “Good Morning to All,” which would later be the source of the sheet music for “Happy Birthday.”

Zachary Crockett writing for Pricenomics about who owns the copyright to “Happy Birthday.” Update: On Tuesday, September 22, a federal judge struck down Warner/Chappell Music’s long-standing claim to the copyright for “Happy Birthday.”

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