‘Chopsticks’ to ‘Happy Birthday’ – 5 famous melodies you didn’t realise were written by women

11 November 2021, 17:49 | Updated: 11 November 2021, 17:52

Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday. Picture: Alamy

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Many of the world’s most memorable memories were written by female composers. Here are some of the most famous examples.

Sure you can sing these famous tunes, but could you tell us who the composer was?

Well now you can, as we take a look at some of history’s most iconic melodies, that happen to have been written by women...

Chopsticks

For many amateur pianists, ‘Chopsticks’ is the first tune they learn on the piano.

It’s repetitive, catchy, and simple nature make it an easy tune for even the most novice piano players to master.

But while you know how it goes, did you know it was written by a 16-year old? The piece was created by British composer, Euphemia Allen wrote “The Celebrated Chop Waltz” in 1877.

Read more: What is ‘Chopsticks’ – and why does it have so many variations?

Happy Birthday

In its first format, the tune of Happy Birthday was an American school teachers’ greeting song, titled ‘Good Morning to All’, which was written by two sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill, circa. 1893.

The pair wrote the piece while they were teachers at Louisville Experimental Kindergarten School, with Mildred writing the lyrics, while the melody was composed by Patty.

It wasn’t until almost 20 years later that Patty’s tune first appeared with the Happy Birthday lyrics we know and love today.

Rock-a-bye Baby

Also known as ‘Hush-a-bye baby on the tree top’, the 18th-century nursery rhyme is popular for having two tunes.

The first, being a variant of Henry Purcell’s 1686 quickstep Lillibullero, and the second, being a melody which was composed 200 years later.

American actress Effie Crockett is credited as this melody’s composer, and is said to have created the song in 1872 while minding someone else’s baby.

Her banjo teacher sent the music off to be published, and Effie requested her name to be published as Effie Canning (her Grandmother’s last name) as she was worried about what her father would think.

The Wheels on the Bus

“...go round and round”, is a tune you’re most likely familiar with if you ever travelled on a bus, or any moving vehicle for that matter, as a child.

The popular children’s song was composed by Verna Hills at the end of the 19th century, and published in 1939.

It’s suggested that the piece was written when motorised school bus journeys were growing longer and children needed to be kept entertained for this extra time spent travelling.

This Old Man

While it’s unclear exactly who wrote this children’s tune, its place as one of history’s most famous nursery-rhymes is thanks to two women.

This old man, he played one,
He played knick-knack on my thumb;
With a knick-knack paddywhack,
Give a dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.

The song was first recorded in 1937 in the British folk-song collector, Anne Gilchrist’s, book, Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

She says she was taught the song growing up by her Welsh nurse in the 1870s under the title ‘Jack Jintle’.