Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” Lyrics Meaning

There is no song in the history of modern music that has become more synonymous with birthday celebrations than Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday”. Despite the fact that it was written in regards to a specific individual (the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), that does not negate the fact that Stevie recognized the potential for this song to be used universally. In fact Mr. Wonder is a well-known champion of love, peace and justice, which is why he used this track to help get an official holiday established in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, the greatest civil rights leader of the late 20th century. And as mentioned in the lyrics, “Happy Birthday” acknowledges “all God’s children”, and its overall message is loud and clear – we have come to celebrate the birthday of a loved one!

Lyrics of "Happy Birthday"

The fascinating thing about this Wonder classic is that although it is some decades old, it remains one of the freshest birthday tunes today. Owing to this, sharing its video along with a fine birthday wish will definitely come in handy when you want to express your feelings on someone’s birthday.

One of the most Notable Performances of this song

Below is one of Stevie Wonder’s most iconic live performances of “Happy Birthday”. The performance took place on July 18, 2009 on Mandela Day. The event was held at Radio City Music Hall in New York in commemoration of Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday celebration.

During the performance, Wonder was joined on stage by numerous big names in the world of entertainment. Morgan Freeman, Cyndi Lauper, Aretha Franklin, Ringo Starr and Dave Stewart were just some of the many famous faces that surrounded Wonder and sang with him during his performance.

Facts about “Happy Birthday”

  • “Happy Birthday” was released on 29 September 1980 as part of Stevie Wonder’s 19th album, “Hotter Than July”.
  • In addition to writing and singing lead vocals on the track, Stevie Wonder also produced it.
  • Mr. Wonder also served a number of other roles in the creation of this track, including playing the drums, bass melodeon, ARP synthesizer and keyboard synthesizer.
  • This song was actually written in recognition of the birthday of renowned civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). In fact on the B-side of the “Happy Birthday” single were excerpts of speeches by Dr. King.
  • Moreover the sleeve liner of the entire “Hotter Than July” album served as a tribute to Dr. King and a call for others to join Stevie in observing 15 January 1981 “as a national holiday” a few years before Martin Luther King Day was officiated. As such, on 15 January 1981 Stevie Wonder organized a rally at the National Mall in Washington D.C. (the same place Martin Luther King made the unforgettable “I Have a Dream” speech back in 1963) to get the holiday legalized. Over 100,000 people attended this event, and of course Stevie performed “Happy Birthday” at the rally.
  • In other words, Stevie Wonder used the song as part of his campaign to create a national holiday in honor of Dr. King. It’s noteworthy to mention that Wonder began this campaign when he was just 17.
  • On multiple occasions, Wonder said he wrote this song in direct response to a 1979 bill to create a nationwide Dr. King holiday failing to get passed into law.
  • The efforts to create a Martin Luther King national holiday (spearheaded by Stevie Wonder and Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow) finally came into fruition in November of 1983 through the approval of US President Ronald Reagan.  So as it now stands, Dr. Martin Luther King is the only American who was not a President whose birthday is a national holiday.
  • Stevie Wonder performed this song in 2012 at the Diamond Jubilee Concert in London. This event was attended by members of the British Royal Family. The concert was held to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II inheriting the British crown.

How did “Happy Birthday” perform on the charts?

It peaked at number-two on the UK Singles charts. “Happy Birthday” was not released as a single in the United States. Despite this, it still managed to reach number 70 on the Billboard R&B chart.

Did “Happy Birthday” win a Grammy?

Despite being one of Wonder’s most famous songs, “Happy Birthday” did not receive a Grammy nomination.

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