Jim Adams has prompted us this week with Birthday, Cake, Gift, Party and Surprise for Song Lyric Sunday. This was an easy pick for me by the great Stevie Wonder aptly named Happy Birthday. This is a special song for all of us but the inspiration behind this version is very special as you’ll read below.
“Happy Birthday” is a song written, produced and performed by Stevie Wonder for the Motown label. Wonder, a social activist, was one of the main figures in the campaign to have the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. become a national holiday, and created this single to make the cause known.
“Happy Birthday” was first released in September 1980 on Wonder’s Hotter than July album. Released as a single, it was one of his most popular entries in the UK Singles Chart.
The song, one of many of Wonder’s songs to feature the use of a keyboard synthesizer, features Wonder lamenting the fact that anyone would oppose the idea of a Dr. King holiday, where “peace is celebrated throughout the world” and singing to King in the chorus, “Happy birthday to you”. The holiday, he proposes, would facilitate the realization of Dr. King’s dreams of integration and “love and unity for all of God’s children”.
Wonder used the song to popularize the campaign, and continued his fight for the holiday, holding the Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1981. United States President Ronald Reagan approved the creation of the holiday, signing it into existence on November 2, 1983. The first official Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, held the third Monday in January of each year, was held on January 20, 1986, and was commemorated with a large-scale concert, where Stevie Wonder was the headlining performer.
“Happy Birthday” was released as a single in several countries. In the UK, the song became one of Wonder’s biggest hits, reaching number two in the charts in 1981.
When Wonder performed the song at Nelson Mandela Day at Radio City Music Hall on July 19, 2009, he slightly changed the lyrics, “Thanks to Mandela and Martin Luther King!” in that verse. Wonder also performed this song at the Diamond Jubilee Concert in London for the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
Lyrics "Happy Birthday" You know it doesn't make much sense There ought to be a law against Anyone who takes offense At a day in your celebration 'Cause we all know in our minds That there ought to be a time That we can set aside To show just how much we love you And I'm sure you would agree What could fit more perfectly Than to have a world party on the day you came to be Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday I just never understood How a man who died for good Could not have a day that would Be set aside for his recognition Because it should never be Just because some cannot see The dream as clear as he that they should make it become an illusion And we all know everything That he stood for time will bring For in peace our hearts will sing Thanks to Martin Luther King Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday Why has there never been a holiday Where peace is celebrated all throughout the world The time is overdue For people like me and you Who know the way to truth Is love and unity to all God's children It should be a great event And the whole day should be spent In full remembrance Of those who lived and died for the oneness of all people So let us all begin We know that love can win Let it out don't hold it in Sing it loud as you can Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday Happy birthday Happy birthday Happy birthday Ooh yeah Happy birthday We know the key to unity of all people Is in the dream that you had so long ago That lives in all of the hearts of people That believe in unity We'll make the dream become a reality I know we will Because our hearts tell us so Happy birthday Happy birthday Happy birthday