Patty Smith Hill

Who wrote the tune to "Happy birthday?"
And the answer: Patty Smith Hill.    
Photo credit: public domain. 

An educator born in Anchorage, Kentucky, Patty Smith Hill and her sister Mildred wrote the song for Patty's students, titled "Good Morning to All." The original lyrics were: "Good morning to you, Good morning to you, Good morning dear children, Good morning to all."

Unbeknownst to Smith Hill, the simple tune used to greet her kindergarten students would soon become an American cultural staple. In her lyric book, "Song Stories for Kindergarten," Smith Hill states that her students loved the song so much that they would sing it at birthday celebrations. As the association between the tune and birthdays grew, Smith Hill wrote the new lyrics in her 1922 song book, forever cementing it in history.

Interestingly, though, the song was copyrighted by the The Summy Company in 1935, crediting authors Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman. This began a series of corporate attempts to claim copyright royalties over the decades, most notably including Warner's purchase of the Summy Company some 53 years later. The song was incredibly lucrative for Warner, who collected $2 million in royalties in 2008 alone.

In 2015, though, Judge George H. King ruled that Summy Company's 1935 copyright of the original song was not actually copyrighting the song itself, but copyrighting a specific number of piano arrangements of the song. Effectively, this voided Warner's copyright claims and thrust the song back into the public domain. So, at your next birthday celebration, sing "Happy Birthday" to your heart's content— royalty free.

Learn more about the history of "Happy Birthday" here.

Question of the Day Mobile App


Learn something new everyday. Get the Question of the Day delivered to your inbox each day!

You've successfully subscribed to Question of the Day
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to Question of the Day
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.