Happy Birthday to You - The Most Celebrated Song of All Turns 131 Years!

You’ve sung it all your life, but do you know its origins or how old it is? Read on to learn all you need to know about the Happy Birthday song!
Bird and cat singing Happy birthday

From Good Morning to Happy Birthday 

Did you know that the Happy Birthday song didn’t actually start out as a song about birthdays? The original lyrics and melody were composed in 1893 by sisters Patty and Mildred Hill, both of whom were kindergarten teachers. They wanted to write a song to welcome the children into the classroom each day, and titled their tune, “Good Morning to All”. The lyrics to both songs are quite similar and the melodies are nearly identical: 

  • Good morning to all/Happy birthday to you
  • Good morning to all/Happy birthday to you
  • Good morning, dear children,/Happy birthday, dear person’s name,
  • Good morning to all/Happy birthday to you

The change in lyrics happened some time in the early 20th century but the exact reasoning for the change is not known; both songs are still used although the “Happy Birthday” version is by far the most well-known. It’s believed that the new “Happy Birthday” lyrics were first published in 1912 in the songbook, “The Elementary Worker and His Work”. 


Officially “Happy Birthday”

The lyrics to both songs were simple to learn and the happy melody made children feel at ease. For these reasons the “Good Morning” song quickly became used not only in schools but other settings, and with the lyrics change children’s birthday parties became the most popular place to hear the song! 

The song was a popular addition to birthday celebrations, and in 1935 was copyrighted by Clayton F. Summy Company, claiming ownership to the lyrics. In 2015, a copyright suit was settled by the Warner/Chappell music company, which had also claimed ownership of the tune; the court determined that the song was now in the public domain. For songs, books, and other creative works the public domain means that the work is no longer protected by copyright. It can be freely used and distributed by anyone and for any reason.

Today, “Happy Birthday” remains one of the most widely recognized and frequently performed songs in the world, and has become an iconic part of birthday celebrations in many cultures.


Alternate “Happy Birthday” Versions

“Happy Birthday” has been used in countless movies, TV shows, and other media, and has been translated into dozens of different languages. Two of the most popular alternate versions are: 

  • For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, popularized in the 1950s and 1960s. The melody is nearly identical to “Happy Birthday”, but the lyrics go on for a few more lines. 

For he’s a jolly good fellow, 

For he’s a jolly good fellow, 

For he’s a jolly good fellow,

And so say all of us!

And so say all of us, 

And so say all of us, 

For he’s a jolly good fellow, 

And so say all of us!

  • Birthday, written by the Beatles and released on the 1968 “White Album”. The melody has several different beats than the original, but it is now used almost interchangeably at birthday celebrations. 

They say it's your birthday?

Well, it’s my birthday, too, yeah!

They say it’s your birthday?

We’re gonna have a good time. 

I’m glad it’s your birthday,

Happy birthday to you!

These alternative versions are often used in different cultures or contexts. For example, many would consider the Beatles version to be more appropriate for adolescents and teens than the elderly, and the Jolly Good Fellow song would be appropriate for a graduation or in response to a good deed. All, however, can provide a fun and unique way to celebrate someone's birthday. If you’re stumped on what to write in a birthday ecard, here are some suggestions.


Famous Sing-alongs of Happy Birthday

“Happy Birthday” is sung at nearly all birthday celebrations around the world, but there are three performances that most of us think of when we think of the song. 

  • Marilyn Monroe’s performance for President John F. Kennedy: Marilyn Monroe's sultry and flirtatious rendition of "Happy Birthday" for President John F. Kennedy at his 45th birthday celebration in 1962 has become one of the most iconic performances of the song.
  • Stevie Wonder’s performance celebrating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:In 1981, Stevie Wonder released a song called "Happy Birthday" to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and to support the campaign to make it a national holiday. The song has since become a popular choice for birthday celebrations and a symbol of the fight for civil rights.
  • Elvis Presley’s performance for his fans: The King of Rock ‘n Roll was known to break out in “Happy Birthday” renditions for his fans at his concerts.
  • Other famous renditions include Katy Perry singing to Rhianna, Justin Bieber singing to his fans in Australia in 2011. 

Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday!

Over the years, "Happy Birthday to You" has become one of the most widely recognized and beloved songs in the world, and it is sung by people of all ages and backgrounds to celebrate birthdays and other special occasions. The song turns 131 years old this year - happy birthday to YOU, Happy Birthday! You’ll find a great selection of birthday ecards to celebrate the important people in your life, or you can make your own ecard here