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Leo Burnett

Complicated life of 'Simple Gifts' Anniversary: As the popular song, written by a member of the Shaker sect, marks its 150th year, historians try to set its confusing record straight.

After 150 years, "Simple Gifts" isn't so simple anymore.

The song composed in 1848 by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett as an easy-to-learn tune for Shaker worship -- extolling the virtues of a simple life -- has become one of America's most popular all-purpose melodies.

In its sesquicentennial year, it's hard to escape the song, which is performed with or without its original lyrics by folk singers, school choruses, church choirs and symphony orchestras. Versions have shown up in weddings, funerals, two presidential inaugurations, television commercials -- and even the hit Irish dance revue "Lord of the Dance."

"It's surprising how many places the...