Century-old manuscript of “Happy Birthday” melody found in Louisville

A 19th century manuscript with the melody that eventually became the famous “Happy Birthday To You” jingle has been found at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

The University’s library director, James Procell, only recently discovered the manuscript, originally titled, “Good Morning To All”, according to a Reuters post.

A sketch book containing the document belonged to a Louisville native, Mildred Hill, who co-authored the song with her sister Patty.  It was originally published in a song book for children in 1893.  Hill’s sister Patty was a kindergarten teacher.

The manuscript was among other papers and documents donated to the library back in the 1950’s by a friend of the Hill’s.  The documents were not cataloged and remained hidden for years.

In making the announcement, the university said the first page of the manuscript is missing and there was no reference to a copyright in the statement.  This is significant because of a lawsuit filed against Warner Music Group, who claims to have a copyright for the song.  Warner is collecting about $2 million in royalties for the song when used in movies and TV shows.

Warner says they have a copyright dating to 1935, when the Clayton F. Summy Company obtained registrations to the tune.  The Summy Company later became Birch Tree and was acquired by Warner.

The lawsuit, filed in 2013, argues the song has been free of copyrights for decades, and seeks to return the fees collected by Warner over the years.  The suit, initiated by a group of artists, is being considered by U.S. District Judge George King in Los Angeles.

The group recently has said they have an old songbook that proves the copyright is no longer in force, but Warner is disputing that claim.

The university said library director Procell has plans to catalog Ms. Hill’s papers and is planning a concert of her music for next year, the 100th anniversary of her death.

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