The other day, a pseudonymous individual said this:

And I am sure that some of the singers who have already passed away got credit for songs they did not write. I understand that sometimes they just bought the rights to the songs – such as George Yonce and “Yesterday.”

Well, there are a couple problems with that. First, George Younce didn’t own the song; Les Beasley published it (“Les Beasley Publishing”) and to my knowledge still owns the song.

Now there is no conceivable reason why Beasley, who published the song, would have said that someone else wrote it. If Younce had bought the song from someone else, he would have published it too and made a bit of money from it.

I understand that the background behind this particular song is that Younce wrote it during his brief stint with the Florida Boys. Les Beasley offered him about $50 for the publishing rights on the song, Younce said yes, and the deal was done. [EDIT: A follow-up email to Les Beasley confirmed reader Sony’s comment below that Younce actually wrote the song during his early Cathedrals years.]
Younce wrote numerous songs, both before and after, and could have had no way of knowing he’d just sold what was probably his career best.

Think about it for a minute. When we talk about George, we tend to superimpose his later legendary status on his earlier work. In 1958 or 1959, he wasn’t a marquee name yet. He was just a young man with a good voice trying to make ends meet. Gospel groups then didn’t have a reputation for paying high salaries (unfortunately, little has changed there)–and $50 was a pretty decent sum.

If Younce didn’t have the wherewithal to publish the song, chances are he wouldn’t have had the money to buy the author’s rights either.

One side note: Some people mix up author’s rights with publishing rights. The publisher gets 50% of the income from the song and the authors also get 50%. If there are two authors, each gets 25%. If there are two publishing companies, each publishing company gets 25%.

Most well-known songwriters, except for the few who self-publish successfully, sign a contract with a publishing company to publish their song. They are still recognized as the author and still get the author’s royalties, unless they sell their song for a set amount (as Younce may have done with “Yesterday”). But whether they get a royalty, which is standard operating procedure, or sell it for a flat fee, they still retain their right to be recognized as the author.