The hidden figures behind “Happy Birthday to you”

If we still sing "Happy Birthday to You" today it is thanks to the sisters Mildred and Patty Hill who wrote the melody with children in mind but who are too often forgotten

How many times have we sung the famous tune “Happy Birthday to You“? Countless, yet few may realize that behind this ubiquitous melody stand two sisters, Mildred Jane Hill and Patty Smith Hill. Despite their significant contribution to American culture, these sisters are often overlooked.

The origins of an iconic song

The journey of this iconic song, acknowledged by the Guinness World Records as the most sung in the English language, began in 1893 when the sisters composed a melody titled “Good Morning to All.” Their goal was to create songs suited to the limited musical abilities of children.

Patty employed the same melody for her version of “Good Morning to All,” singing it to her kindergarten students in Louisville, Kentucky. This marked the starting point for the birthday song as we know it today.

The transformation might have taken place at the Little Loomhouse, a retreat that now houses a nonprofit fiber arts organization, where it’s said that the lyrics were changed during a birthday party.

More than the authors of “happy birthday to you”

Beyond their fame from “Happy Birthday to You,” the Hill sisters made a significant mark on American history. Patty was a pioneer in early childhood education, advocating a progressive philosophy that emphasized the importance of creativity and the social and emotional well-being of children. She firmly supported kindergartens, demonstrating their usefulness and essential nature.

Mildred, a musical prodigy and internationally recognized pianist, played a key role in preserving music, particularly the unique expressions of black vendors. Foreseeing the rise of blues and jazz as American musical genres, Mildred understood the importance of preserving this music before it vanished with the passing of older generations.

Despite their impact, the Hill sisters often receive little recognition, and the story of “Happy Birthday to You” is frequently considered a folk song that has always existed. However, thanks to the efforts of the Happy Birthday Circle, a Louisville-based nonprofit organization, the legacy of the Hill sisters is being preserved.

Currently, there is an initiative to build a public tribute to the sisters in Louisville’s Waterfront Park, with the unveiling expected in 2026.

Happy Birthday-sisters Hill

@Happy Birthday Circle

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