Born: Oc­to­ber 1, 1832, Mid­dle­town, Con­nec­ti­cut.

Died: June 8, 1884, Hart­ford, Con­nec­ti­cut.

Buried: Spring Grove Ce­me­te­ry, Hart­ford, Con­nec­ti­cut.



Henry was the son of Al­an­son Work and Au­rel­ia E. Forbes.

His father op­posed slav­ery, and Work was him­self an ac­tive ab­o­li­tion­ist and Un­ion sup­port­er. His fa­mi­ly’s home be­came a stop on the Un­der­ground Rail­road, help­ing run­away slaves to free­dom in Ca­na­da, for which his fa­ther was once imp­ris­oned.

Work was self taught in mu­sic. By the time he was 23, he worked as a print­er in Chi­ca­go, Il­li­nois, spe­cial­iz­ing in set­ting mu­sic­al type.

It was said he com­posed in his head as he worked, with­out a piano, us­ing the noise of the ma­chin­ery as in­spir­a­tion. His first pub­lished song was We Are Com­ing, Sis­ter Ma­ry, which ev­en­tu­al­ly became a sta­ple in Chris­ty’s Min­strels shows.

Work pro­duced much of his best ma­ter­i­al dur­ing the Am­er­ican ci­vil war. In 1862, he pub­lished King­dom Com­ing us­ing his own lyr­ics, based up­on snip­pets of black speech he had heard.

The use of slave di­a­lect (Ir­ish was al­so a fav­o­rite) tend­ed to lim­it the ap­peal of Work’s ma­ter­i­al and make it po­li­tic­al­ly in­cor­rect to­day.

However, King­dom Com­ing appeared in the Je­rome Kern show Good Morn­ing, Dear­ie on Broad­way in 1921, and was heard in the back­ground in the 1944 Ju­dy Gar­land film Meet Me in St. Lou­is.

1862 also saw Work’s nov­el­ty song Graft­ed in­to the Ar­my, fol­lowed in 1863 by Bab­y­lon is Fall­en (Don’t you see the black clouds risin’ ob­er yon­der?), The Song of a Thou­sand Years, and God Save the Na­tion. His 1864 ef­fort Wake Ni­co­de­mus was po­pu­lar in mins­trel shows.

In 1865, Work wrote his great­est hit, in­spired by Ge­ne­ral Will­iam Te­cum­seh Sher­man’s march to the sea, March­ing Through Geor­gia, at the end of the pre­vi­ous year. Thanks to its live­ly me­lo­dy, the song was im­mens­e­ly po­pu­lar, its mil­lion sheet mu­sic sales be­ing un­pre­ce­dent­ed.

A cheer­ful march­ing song, the mu­sic has since been pressed in­to ser­vice ma­ny times, in­clud­ing by Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty as a foot­ball fight song.

Timothy Shay Ar­thur’s play Ten Nights in a Bar­room, had Work’s 1864 Come Home, Fa­ther, a dirge be­moan­ing the de­mon drink: too mawk­ish for mod­ern tastes, but po­pu­lar at tem­per­ance meet­ings.

Settling in­to sen­ti­ment­al bal­lad­ry, Work had sig­ni­fi­cant post-ci­vil war suc­cess with The Lost Let­ter and The Ship That Nev­er Re­turned—a tune re­used in the Wreck of the Old 97 and MTA.

Another hit was My Grand­fa­ther’s Clock, pub­lished in 1876, which was in­tro­duced by Sam Lu­cas in Hart­ford, Con­nec­ti­cut, sold ov­er a mil­lion cop­ies, and po­pu­lar­ized the term grand­fa­ther clock.

By 1880, Work was liv­ing in New York Ci­ty, giving his oc­cu­pa­tion as a mu­si­cian. He was in­duct­ed into the Song­writ­ers Hall of Fame in 1970. He was a dist­ant cou­sin to Fran­ces Work, a great-grand­mo­ther of Di­a­na, Prin­cess of Wales.