The Alphabet Song: A History
One of the most popular and widely used alphabet songs is “The A.B.C.,” also known as “The Alphabet Song.” The song is usually sung on a very common nursery rhyme "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The tune was arranged by an 18th-century composer, Louis Le Maire, also known as Lemaire. Mozart used the same melody as a variation to a classic nursery rhyme called “Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman” or “Ah! Shall I tell you, mother?” A Boston-based publisher Charles Bradlee copyrighted the alphabet song in 1835 with the nursery rhyme’s tune. The original title of the song was “The A.B.C., a German air with variations for the flute with an easy accompaniment for the piano forte.”
The song essentially helps teach phonemic awareness to the children at the stage when they begin how to read. The English language consists of 26 letters with 40 sounds. Phonemes are the sounds associated with each letter of the alphabet.
There are two measures or eight beats of the song. The last letter of the alphabet is pronounced as “zee” in the United States and “zed” in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. In the song, most of the children use the “zee” pronunciation. There are, however, variations that feature the “zed” pronunciation. In the French version, there are no adjustments made on the tune except for the final line. The French “y” has two syllables, and that required them to modify the last line of the song.
There are versions of the song where each letter stands for a word. These are called phonetics. One of these songs is the famous “The Alphabet Love Song” by Buddy Kaye, Fred Wise, Sidney Lippman, and later Perry Como. “School Song” from the musical Matilda also belongs under this category.
There are also versions of the song that goes from Z to A. The group Wee Sing released "ZYXz" with this pattern. In 1966, the comedian Soupy Sales released a song with the letters in reverse form and they called it “Backwards Alphabet.” The original version first appeared on “Alice Through the Looking Glass” that was performed by actress Judi Rolin along with the Smothers Brothers.
Enjoy playing this song with your kids!