The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

September 26, 2013

Light the candles, sing the song

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The song dates back to the mid-19th century, its roots deep in the hubbub of a Kentucky school classroom.

It is a simple, direct tune, including only six notes, but it is one of the most often performed works in the history of music.

It also happens to be my favorite song, at least on this date every year.

It is, “Happy Birthday To You.”

This is the 40th anniversary of my 21st birthday, the date on which I became a full-fledged adult, at least in the eyes of society. To my way of thinking I haven’t gotten there yet, but that’s another story. I am at an awkward age, old enough to know better but still young enough not to care.

Old enough to qualify for senior citizens’ discounts but too young to say whatever the heck I want in public and get away with it. Old enough to be out of diapers but young enough not to have to go back into them.

At any rate, I trust sometime today I will be serenaded by someone singing “Happy Birthday To You,” hopefully the traditional version and not the “You look like a monkey and you smell like one, too,” variation.

A pair of sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill, are credited with writing the song. Both were educators, and the pair composed the song for use in a kindergarten class in the elementary school where Patty was principal.

It began life as “Good Morning To All,” and the lyrics were “Good morning to you, good morning to you, good morning dear children, good morning to all.”

Students of the Hill sisters liked the little ditty so much they began singing it at birthday parties, substituting the words “Happy birthday to you.” The revamped lyrics were first published in 1912.

Oddly, even after more than a century, the song has not reached the public domain.

It remains under copyright, meaning that if you sing it for profit, you must pay a fee.

In June, a New York filmmaker filed suit to have the song declared in the public domain. But Warner Music Group currently holds the copyright.

The company reportedly earns roughly $2 million annually thanks to the happy birthday song.

Singing it at a birthday party, whether for a child or an octogenarian, does not require payment. Unless, that is, you are a professional singer and are reimbursed for your rendition.

Rest assured, anyone gracing me with strains of the familiar birthday tune today will not be paid for their performance, and thus will be spared paying the copyright fee.

You’re welcome.

Many people on the far side of 50 approach birthdays with the joyful anticipation of a steer being led into a slaughterhouse.

Not me. I love birthdays. I’d have one every month, if I could. What’s not to like? There is cake, there are presents and people treat you nicely whether you deserve it or not.

The lone drawback is, another birthday means you are another year older. Well, you’ve got to take the good with the bad.

They say age is just a number, simply a state of mind. Not necessarily. I know what number I’ve reached, and my mind doesn’t feel any different than it has for the past six decades.

No, I maintain age is a state of body. That is no longer me looking out from the mirror as I shave in the morning, but my dad.

When I arise from a chair it sounds as if someone had just poured cold milk on a bowl of Snap, Crackle and Pop cereal (with a couple of groans and wheezes thrown in for good measure).

Hair grows everyplace on me but on the top of my head. I no longer spring from my bed of a morning, but rather ease out of it cautiously, like a child dipping a careful toe in the water of a cold mountain lake.

Gravity has taken its toll, dragging and sagging and creating a caricature of my once youthful, virile and dashing self.

Some out-of-town family members dropped by unexpectedly over the weekend, and one of the children spotted a photo of our engagement photo, taken in the mid-1970s on the shore of Theta Pond on the Oklahoma State University campus.

“What happened to us?” I joked.

“We grew old together,” my bride replied.

And so we have, and it has been a joyous, marvelous ride.

So here’s to birthdays. Don’t deny them, dread them, ignore them, try to avoid them, or somehow pretend they just don’t matter.

Birthdays are the one day of the year people treat you like you’re special, and that in itself is a thing to be celebrated.

And, of course, there is the cake, there has to be cake.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.