Seventy years ago, today, the #1 song on Billboard (pre-hot 100 era) was A Little Bird Told Me by Evelyn Knight, backed up by the Stardusters. Written by Harvey Oliver Brooks, the song was recorded by five different artists with Knight’s version being the only number one. Harvey Brooks was the first black American to write a major motion picture’s complete score: I’m No Angel, starring Mae West.
In 1950, this particular song was the subject of a landmark court case between Supreme Records in Los Angeles and Decca Records in London, England. Supreme Records founder Albert Patrick sued Decca over copyright infringement as his company had recorded and released the song with singer Paula Watson before Decca’s version was released with Knight & The Stardusters. Patrick was furious and filed for $400,000 claiming plagiarism of the arrangement.
The court ruled in favor of the defense stating that musical arrangements were not copyrightable, as style could not be protested under the law. The case opened the door for cover versions. Supreme went bankrupt shortly afterwards and Paula Watson went to work for Decca.