Happy Birthday To You
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com


Have you ever wondered about the origin of the popular birthday greeting song, "Happy Birthday to you"? As to when and where and by whom it was written or created? Or for that matter, when it was first sung? Well, thanks to my friend, Michael Lobo, sharing with me his painstaking research on the origins of some popular songs, I am richer today in my own knowledge on the subject. On the origin, of some of those immortal songs -- songs that are still sung, often around the piano, at birthdays and family reunions. And "Happy Birthday To You" is one of them.
Believe it or not, there is nothing on the origin of this song in that general repository of all information: the Encyclopaedia Britannica. None of the books normally available in the music section of bookshops, or the music department of libraries, throw any light on how this song came by. Neither do the works such as the `Companions' published by Oxford and Faber, to books on chart statistics, have any material on this. In his quest for the origins of this song, Michael cruised through endless volumes of umpteen Guinness Encyclopaedias on subjects as diverse as - heavy metal, jazz, blues, folk, soul, and country music, ....chart statistics of 'No.1's, 'No.2's, top-tens, top-forties and hot-hundreds, .....Books on that fabulous decade of `the swinging sixties', and on the era of Beatle-mania. And he sailed through Leslie Lowe's "Directory of Popular Music" and Dick Jacobs' "Who wrote that song?" Finally it was while reading up material for a treatise on Christmas Carols, that he stumbled on to the information he was seeking, about the origin of the song "Happy Birthday To You". It was in Jean Harrowven's book on the origin of rhymes, songs and sayings.
Perhaps the most frequently sung song in the English-speaking world, Happy Birthday To You is also popular in other parts of the not-so-English dominated world. As is seen in our own Indian scenario where noveau riche yuppies and puppies sing away - `Appy Bird-day too yuuu'. The origins of this song go back to the year 1888. It was the year when a young woman of 21 named Patti Hill graduated from a Teachers' Training school in Louisville, Kentucky(USA). She had some revolutionary ideas for teaching young children. Her work had so impressed the Principal of the College, that she was offered the post as head of a school attached to the college for demonstration purposes. Patti and her sister Mildred, a music teacher, took charge of the school and tried to create a happy atmosphere using songs as the medium of communication.
To start the day, they composed a song called: Good morning to all. The sisters thought the song especially suitable for children's voices. They also wrote a goodbye song to be sung at close of school. Both these songs found publication in a music book: `Song stories for Kindergarten', published in 1896. The sisters later rewrote the morning song with new lyrics - the familiar Happy Birthday to you - set to the same now popular original tune of Good morning to all, to be sung on the birthdays of the children of the school. Other teachers undergoing training at the college were very impressed and adopted similar techniques on returning to their own schools. The song spread quickly - first at schools and then to homes. And in England, it gradually displaced the Victorian song Many happy returns of the day. But it was not till 1935 that Patti Hill was persuaded to subject the song to copyright, and it was published in `Union School Chorus Music'. Patti died in 1942, and her heir decided to leave his share of the song's royalties to a charitable trust for children, in her honour. And the song continues to spread its message of goodwill and cheer, - "From good friends and true, from old friends and new, may good luck go with you, and happiness too".

850 words: dated 24.08.2004.
Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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