Louisville, Ky. – The “Happy Birthday” song, arguably the most recognizable song in the English language, began as “Good Morning to All,” which was penned by Louisville sisters Mildred and Patty Hill in the early 1890s.
The copyright status of “Happy Birthday to You” has been in a legal imbroglio for many years, and the song’s status has even made its way to the United States Supreme Court.
Recently, the only known original sheet music for the Hill sisters’ “Good Morning to All” was uncovered in the Dwight Anderson Memorial Music Library at the University of Louisville. The manuscript was discovered by library directory James Process, who found it Mildred’s sketch book. The manuscript, along with several additional musical compositions and papers belonging to Hill, were donated to the library in the 1950s by local philanthropist Hattie Bishop Speed, a friend of the Hill sisters. These documents weren’t cataloged upon receipt and were thus filed away and remained hidden in the library’s archives for decades.
Some differences from the familiar “Happy Birthday” tune are noticeable. The song is written in a different key, and has a slightly different melody, though the rhythm and words remain the same as the published version.
“The question is, is this the original version of the song, or was Ms. Hill somehow unhappy with the published version and this represents a revision of the song?” Procell said.
The first page of the manuscript is missing, making it harder to answer those questions and know the composer’s intentions.
“That’s a mystery in itself,” Procell said. “Where is page one?”
The Mildred Hill papers are a significant addition to the UofL music library’s collection, which is the largest academic music collection in Kentucky and considered one of the best in the U.S.
Procell plans to fully catalog and digitize Hill’s materials in the coming months and is working with School of Music faculty and students to organize a concert of her music in 2016, a century after her death.
Still, no one has come forward claiming the alternate lyrics, “you look like a monkey, and you smell like one, too.”