The following is excerpted from My Old Kentucky Road Trip: Historic Destinations and Natural Wonders. Find a local book shop near you at www.Indiebound.org
Stick with us for a moment; this story about a joyful, seminal song starts out sad but ends up somewhere happy.
If you walk diagonally across the street from the Frazier History Museum in Louisville toward the I-64 overpass and look down into the bushes next to a seventeen-space parking lot, you’ll find the only current commemoration of Mildred and Patty Hill, teachers and songwriters who penned the song “Good Morning to All.” You might know it better as “Happy Birthday to You.”
“Good Morning to All” was originally written in 1893 for a songbook called Song Stories for the Kindergarten. Both women worked for progressive early education with the Louisville Experimental Kindergarten School. Mildred, the songwriter, wrote the music, and Patty penned the lyrics as a greeting song for her young students. But during a Louisville birthday party, it was suggested that the song be changed to “Happy Birthday to You.” And the rest as they say…was not the end of the story.
Copyright claims have persisted for years among various groups seeking royalties for the ubiquitous tune. Most folks agree though: the Hill sisters wrote “Good Morning to All,” and that song is the basis for our modern iteration of “Happy Birthday to You.”
So why is this small memorial to two influential Louisville educators and the writers of one of the world’s most recognizable songs sitting under an interstate overpass next to the “Happy Birthday to You” parking lot? The answer is: hopefully it won’t be for much longer.
The Patty Smith and Mildred Jane Hill Happy Birthday Park nonprofit organization has begun raising funds to build a memorial park on a tract of land at the corner of Fourth and Chestnut Streets that pays tribute to the sisters’ contributions to both music and education. A far more fitting homage than a small, downtown parking lot.