The other weekend I celebrated my 22nd birthday. Honestly, it was a pretty great day - I felt loved by everyone and I wouldn't have changed a single thing about it, but it wasn't until the next day that I realized not a single person sang the "happy birthday" song to me.
It's the sort of song that growing up, you hear every year and quite regularly, whether it's sung to you or you're the one singing it. Each country has it's own variation, be it "Joyeux Anniversaire" or "Cumpleaños Feliz", and even the most tone-deaf individual can't help but chime in to this congratulatory tune.
One's birthday itself is an inescapable tradition, but where exactly does the song come from?
Focusing on the universally known English rendition "Happy Birthday To You", the melody dates back to 1893, allegedly formed by Kentucky school teachers and sisters, Patty and Mildred Hill. Originally, the tune was decorated by a song called "Good Morning To All", meant as a simple song for the small children to sing in their mornings at school, but was altered in according to each child's birthday.
The history of the song is a bit shady and unofficial, but it's no doubt that whatever its beginnings were, the song and it's catchy tune caught on. It spread like wildfire, but a copyright was only created for it in 1935 by the Clayton F. Summy Company, still giving the sisters' the profits for their work.
In 1988, media mogul Warner Bros. bought the company and henceforth the full rights to "Happy Birthday To You" for $25 million American dollars. Meaning that any time a harmless "happy birthday" was sung in public, royalties were meant to be paid to Warner Bros. Walt Disney paid $5,000 to legally sing the song at their parade - only one example of a contribution giving Warner Bros. nearly $2 million in royalties each year.
Perhaps the best part of the situation is the fact that only in September 2015 did this copyright get abolished. Thanks to the research and arguments of copyright lawyer Robert Brauneis, and later of filmmaker Jennifer Nelson, the world's most famous song became public domain. The arguing points were that: songs from before 1923 are considered public domain, with evidence of the song being published in a 1922 songbook augmenting this, and that the 1935 original copyright was only valid for a single arrangement of the song and not in its entirety. Finally, the court ruled for the song to be free for all and for Warner Bros. to pay back $14 million to those who had already been charged for the usage of the song.
And to think, even with no royalties on the song now, not a single person sang to me! Birthday drama!!!