The saga of “Happy Birthday” is the weirdest tale in all of music publishing. How can a song that was written 125 years still not be in the public domain? Why does anyone who performs it in a public place still have to pay royalties?
This is the subject of a long, drawn-out court case initiated by a filmmaker who is exploring this very question. The arguments in the trial are complex and often circular–and it’s about to get a whole lot more weird now that a manuscript of “Happy Birthday” dating from 1890 has been discovered. From Digital Music News:
Deep in the vaults of the University of Louisville, a librarian has now discovered what appears to be the original manuscript of “Happy Birthday,” or at least the earliest known version. The sheet music dates back to the 1890s, and is for a song originally titled “Good Morning to All,” which eventually morphed into the song, “Happy Birthday”.
News of the discovery first emerged early this morning. The song, unearthed by librarian James Procell, was part of a songbook called “Song Stories for Kindergarten,” written by Louisville residents Patty and Mildred Hill. That manuscript was later donated to the Louisville Dwight Anderson Memorial Music Library by a family friend in the 1950s, but remained buried and uncatalogued for decades.
This is fascinating stuff. Go here for the latest.