Early version of 'Happy Birthday' song discovered at UofL

Early version of 'Happy Birthday' song discovered at UofL
James Procell (Source: UofL)
James Procell (Source: UofL)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – A recent discovery likely has some University of Louisville staffers singing a happy tune.

The only known manuscript of Louisville native Mildred Hill's song Good Morning to All, which evolved into the world-famous Happy Birthday song, recently was uncovered in the Dwight Anderson Memorial Music Library at UofL.

Mildred Hill and her sister Patty Hill of Louisville co-authored the piece originally known as Good Morning to All in the early 1890s. It was part of their publication Song Stories for the Kindergarten. The words evolved over the years, but the tune has remained the same. Eventually, the song became known as Happy Birthday.

The song made national headlines recently as the subject of a high-profile copyright and public domain court case.

Library director James Procell discovered the manuscript in Mildred Hill'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 Hattie Bishop Speed, a local philanthropist and friend of the Hill sisters. The documents were not cataloged upon receipt; thus they were filed away and remained hidden in the library's archives for decades.

According to a University of Louisville news release, the manuscript contains some differences from the familiar Happy Birthday tune, including a different key and a slightly different melody, although the rhythm and lyrics 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 more difficult 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 considered 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 United States.

Procell said he 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.

Listen to Procell discussing the manuscript in a YouTube video below. Mobile users: click here to view the video.

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