Born: October 1, 1832; Middletown, CT
Died: June 8, 1884; Hartford, CT
Even more than George F. Root and Stephen Foster, Henry Clay Work captured the sentiments of the North during the Civil War in a series of song that were tremendously popular in their time. Root described him as "a slow, painstaking writer, being from one to three weeks upon a song; but when the work was done it was like a piece of fine mosaic, especially in the fitting of words to music."
Born to abolitionists who helped operateRead more the Underground Railroad, Work was a self-taught songwriter, and a printer by trade employed by the publishers Root & Cady in Chicago. He published his first song, "We Are Coming, Sister Mary," in 1853. Work made his name during the war with such songs as "Kingdom Coming" (1862), "Hail Columbia" (1862), and "Marching Through Georgia" (1865). His other most enduring (but now badly dated) composition from that period, "Come Home, Father" (1864), was one of only two temperance songs he wrote. One impediment to enjoyment of his work today is that he wrote many of his lyrics in dialect, at the expense of African-American and Irish dignity.
Work produced little of lasting interest in the years immediately following the Civil War, perhaps because he was distracted by his unhappy marriage to the former Sarah Parker; of their four children, only one survived childhood. He did enjoy a resurgence of popularity in the mid 1870s, particularly upon the publication of the sentimental and sad "Grandfather's Clock" in 1875; it sold nearly a million copies. Read less