It probably won’t surprise you to know that this is the most recognized song in the English language. (The runners up, according to the Guiness Book of World Records: For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow and Auld Lang Syne.)
Sisters Mildred and Patty Hill were kindergarten teachers who wanted a simple melody that children could sing, so they came up with this tune and called it “Good Morning to All.” (“Good morning to you, good morning to you, good morning dear children, good morning to you.”) It’s not really clear how the song morphed into the most common birthday song, but the words and music appeared together as early as 1912.
Today, the song is copyrighted. Probably. Maybe. Sort of. The fact is that Warner Music Group claims a copyright, and enforces it to the tune of $2 million in royalties in 2008 alone. Copyright scholars (if such a term is appropriate) say that if disputed in court, the copyright might not hold. But no one wants to take on that battle, so films and television shows either pony up the dough or avoid the song.
Well, it’s sad when the most you can say in discussing a song is that its trademark is in question. You can’t talk about the many outstanding cover versions recorded, the subtleties of phrasing, or the fresh and inspiring melody. Even so, sing Happy Birthday To You all you want.
Just don’t let The Man catch you.
Wonder if royalties were paid for this performance?