Happy Birthday to the most Famous Unknown Songstress

Dr. Patty Smith Hill  (1868-1946)

Many probably don’t recognize the name.

But it would be difficult to find someone who did not know a certain song she wrote.

Yes, today is the birthday of the woman who co-wrote the lyrics to one of the most famous songs in the English language.

Happy Birthday to You.

The four-line piece was writtten by Patty and her sister, Mildred J. Hill.    Both worked in Louisville, Kentucky  as teachers.  

In 1893, they wrote the piece (originally titled:  Good Morning to All) as a greeting for Patty’s kindergarten class.  Following its popularity, they published the work in their Song Stories for the Kindergarten.

The young pupils enjoyed the ditty so much they began singing it at parties, and the lyrics were changed to, “Happy Birthday”.

In 1996, a Forbes article stated the song brought in roughly two million dollars annually in revenue.

And for the record, I’ve heard more than once, different neighbors around me belting out the tune in their thick, German accents.  Now that’s a  aural delight not to miss!  😉

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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. 🙂
    It is funny that I never gave one thought about the origin of the well known birthday song. I knew I love Stevy Wonder singing it but I knew someone else came out with it and never dawn on me really how old the song was and who wrote it. Thanks for sharing. I think this is a good piece of information to know as we know who wrote the Star Spangle Banner and the German nationality anthem as well since it is now our home.

  2. I didn’t know who wrote it either. Well, not until today. 😉 I searched for people who were born today for a subject to post about. Weird that I’d never even wondered who’d written it. Seems most of us just take it for granted.

  3. I heard this sung in Italy (in Italian, actually) when I was studying there. It’s such a universal song.

    Thanks for sharing who wrote it. I could never remember their names!

  4. The more you know…. 😀

  5. $2M annually?? Pretty sweet little profit center. Makes me wish I’d done better in music theory 😉

  6. Beth,

    Now I’m curious to hear it in Italian!

  7. Heya Ralfast,

    true! 🙂

  8. DD,

    And to think… it’s only four lines! How could they ever have imagined their little ditty would become eternally famous?

  9. It’s still under copyright. You’ll never hear it on a television show which is why you always hear “He’s a jolly good fellow” or some similar song.

  10. Wow. Who knew? I’m going to start waking up my husband every day by singing the old “Good Morning to All” rendition. 🙂 Seriously! I’m not joking or being sarcastic either. Poor boy…

  11. Thanks so much for that info, Lyra!

  12. Dear Jessica,

    Never fear. I do quite believe you shall. 😉

  13. Interesting information, Lyra. And yes, now that I come to think of it, I can’t recall hearing the song on TV.

  14. This was my dad’s birthday too! So we did sing it 🙂
    Thanks for the pep talk on my blog too 🙂

  15. You’re so welcome, Jan! 🙂

  16. I’ve heard this is still under copyright, but I wonder how that’s possible if it was published in 1896. Any book published before 1923 is supposed to be public domain in the United States…but perhaps there are different laws for songs?

  17. Hi Haystack,

    This bit of info is from Wiki: “In 1935, “Happy Birthday to You” was copyrighted as a work for hire by Preston Ware Orem for the Summy Company, the publisher of “Good Morning to All”.The Summy Company registered for copyright in 1935, crediting authors Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman. In 1990, Warner Chappell purchased the company owning the copyright for $15 million, with the value of “Happy Birthday” estimated at $5 million.[5] Based on the 1935 copyright registration, Warner claims that the United States copyright will not expire until 2030, and that unauthorized public performances of the song are technically illegal unless royalties are paid to it. In one specific instance on February 2010, these royalties were said[6] to amount to $700. In the European Union, the copyright of the song will expire on December 31, 2016.”


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