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Answer to Musical Trivia Question # 1

"Happy Birthday To You"
by Mildred & Patty Hill

Virtually everyone in American knows the words and melody to this song. Yet relatively few know that the song is still under copyright. And publishing fees are owed to the songwriters each time the song is played or sung in public.

The song was written by Mildred and Patty Hill, two sisters from Kentucky. The original title was "Good Morning To All."

In 1924, the song was published under a the new title, "Happy Birthday," in a songbook. Soon it was regularly heard on radio and in films as a birthday song.

By the mid-1930s, the hummable little ditty was becoming extremely popular. It was used in a Broadway play and as a Western Union "singing telegram", and even in an Irving Berlin musical "As Thousands Cheer."

It's never been clearly determined who wrote the words, but it's been established that the Hill sisters wrote the melody.

In 1934 Patty and Mildred's sister Jessica filed suit to prove that "Happy Birthday To You" was their melody with different lyrics. The court agreed and awarded the Hill sisters the copyright, which meant that whenever the song was used in a movie, radio program, or public performance, Mildred and Patty Hill were compensated.

That copyright remains in force and under current law the song will not enter public domain until 2030.

Royalty payments on the song are reportedly around $2-million dollars annually. They are split between the Hill Foundation and the publisher, a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner.

If you sing this outside the family setting, you'll need to pay for a performance license that contributes a royalty to the Hill sisters and their heirs.

Incidentally, some American restaurants have devised alternative birthday celebration ditties which are similar to but not quite the same as "Happy Birthday To You so they can avoid paying publishing fees for the song.

Additional details about the story of this song HERE

 

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