It’s the most popular song in the world. But ‘Happy Birthday’ wasn’t always the song we know and love. Here are some crazy facts about a song we all know.
1. “Happy Birthday to You” is the most recognized song in the English language. That’s according to the Guinness Book of World Records. What’s in second place? “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”.
2. “Happy Birthday to You” is often categorized as a secular folk song, passed between generations by tradition. But unlike most folk songs, “Happy Birthday to You” has a known origin and is sung into adulthood.
3. Many scholars argue that “Happy Birthday to You” is the most popular song in the world. “It’s hard to imagine that there are hard statistics that could prove or disprove the claim made in the title of this article. But if any reader knows of a serious contender for the title of world’s most popular song, I would like to know it,” writes George Washington University Law School professor Robert Brauneis.
4. “Happy Birthday to You” is has been translated into at least 18 different languages. The list includes Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Korean, Lithuanian, Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Tagalog.
5. Just like in English, there are even “Happy Birthday to You” spoof songs in other languages. That includes German, which has a popular gibberish variation!
“Happy birthday to you,
Marmelade im Schuh
Aprikose in der Hose
und ein Bratwurst dazu”
(i.e., marmalade in the shoe, apricot in the pants, and with those a bratwurst – total non-sense!)
6. The most famous rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” may have been by Marilyn Monroe. The sultry seductress steamily sang the song to President John F. Kennedy for this forty-fifth birthday in 1962. It was one of the last public appearances by Monroe before her death.
7. The song “Happy Birthday to You” dates back to 1893, but was originally called “Good Morning to You”. It was written by two sisters living in Kentucky, Mildred and Patti Smith Hill. The melody to “Good Morning” is the same melody we use today, but its copyright expired in 1949.
8. On August 31st of 2015, a librarian at the University of Louisville discovered the oldest known manuscript of the song. “Good Morning to You” was part of a songbook titled, “Song Stories for the Kindergarten”. It was a dusty book donated to the library in the 1950s. The old manuscript was discovered by the librarian, James Procell, while digging through a dusty filing cabinet.
9. The first known combination of the melody and lyrics to “Happy Birthday” appeared in 1912. But that combination wasn’t formally registered for copyright until 1935.
10. That left the lyrics as copyrighted intellectual property. But a federal judge struck down those claims of ownership by Warner/Chappell and placed the entire song into public domain. That means the entire “Happy Birthday” song can be used by whomever, wherever. And, with whatever variations without any permission required.
11. Before this point, it was technically illegal to sing “Happy Birthday to You” in public with groups of people. That included birthday parties, office parties, and restaurant celebrations.
12. That was rarely enforced. But in 1996, ASCAP and Warner/Chappell sued the Girl Scouts of America for singing “Happy Birthday” around the campfire. After a public outcry, ASCAP backed down.
13. Before the court ruling, “Happy Birthday to You” was also prohibited for use within movies, television shows, or other productions. All uses needed to be approved by the (supposed) copyright owner, Warner/Chappell Music.
14. It is estimated that Warner/Chappell drew $2 million in annual earnings from “Happy Birthday to You”. The money largely came from films, TV shows and public performances (like concerts).
15. In fact, “Happy Birthday to You” is frequently listed as one of the most valuable songs in the world. The song’s valuation is estimated as $50 million.
16. To evade the licensing costs, a number of restaurants developed their own versions of “Happy Birthday to You”. That includes Red Lobster and Outback Steakhouse.
17. Others have also created wacky workaround variations to avoid paying copyrights, including Mr. Rogers, the Three Stooges, and Stephen Colbert.