Henry Clay Work
Biography of Henry Clay Work
Henry Clay Work was an American composer and songwriter.
He was born in Middletown, Connecticut, to Alanson and Amelia (Forbes) Work. 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, assisting 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, specializing in setting musical type. He allegedly composed in his head as he worked, without a piano, using the noise of the machinery as an 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 Civil War. In 1862 he published "Kingdom Coming" using his own lyrics based upon snippets of Negro speech he had heard. This use of slave dialect (Irish too was a favourite) tended to limit the appeal of Work's works and make them frowned upon 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 his 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 he wrote his greatest hit, inspired by 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. It is a cheerful marching song and 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 dirgesome song bemoaning the demon drink: too mawkish for modern tastes, but always sung at Temperance Meetings.
Settling into sentimental balladry, Work had significant post-Civil War success with the "The Lost Letter", and "The Ship That Never Returned"—a tune reused in the "Wreck of the Old 97" and "MTA". A massive hit was "My Grandfather's Clock", published in 1876, which was introduced by Sam Lucas in Hartford, Connecticut, and again secured more than a million sales of the sheet music, along with popularizing the phrase, "grandfather clock."
By 1880 Work was living in New York City, giving his occupation as a musician. He died in Hartford two years later at the age of 51. He was survived by his wife, Sarah Parker Work, and one of their four children.
Henry Clay Work 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.
Henry Clay Work's Works:
"Kingdom Coming" (c. 1863)
"Come Home, Father" (1864)
"Wake Nicodemus" (1864)
"Marching Through Georgia" (1865)
"The Ship That Never Returned" (1868)
"My Grandfather's Clock" (1876)
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Henry Clay Work Poems
My grand-father's clock was too large for the shelf, So it stood ninety years on the floor; It was taller by half than the old man himself, Though it weighed not a penny weight more.
Come Home, Father!
'Tis The SONG OF LITTLE MARY, Standing at the bar-room door While the shameful midnight revel
Take Them Away! They'Ll Drive Me Crazy
Riding in the Park, or down town shopping At the Matinee, or singing in the choir Everywhere a dazzling blaze of beauty Blinds my eyes and sets my soul afire
Come, Pretty School-Girl!
On this rolling planet ever have you seen A home so like a palace waiting for its queen? -- A dwelling place so fair, So fill'd with treasures rare,
Nicodemus, the slave was of African birth, And was bought for a bagful of gold; He was reckon'd as part of the salt of the earth, But he died years ago, very old.
The Days When We Were Young
Sister! Sister! don't you remember The days when we were young? The long, long days, with a light and a shade Like the pearls of a necklace strung,
Sequel To Grandfather's Clock
Once again have I roamed thro' the old-fashioned house, Where my grandfather spent his ninety years. There are strangers in charge, and the change they have wrought-- Oh! it saddens me, even to tears.
Farewell, My Loved One!
Round me now, beneath the weeping willow, Night's refreshing breezes blow; Anguish drove me from a sleepless pillow Hours and hours ago.
Tie The Knot Tightly
"Launching our from the ship-- ha, ha! courtship-- Oh the misty matrimonial sea, Let the cable hang lightly,
The Picture On The Wall
'Tis noon of night; the sable clouds, Hang weeping in the sky; Alone I sit, where fancies flit Like spectral shadows by.
Brave Boys Are They!
Heavily falls the rain; Wild are the breezes tonight; But 'neath the roof, the hours as they fly, Are happy and calm and bright.
The Ship That Never Returned
On a summer's day while the waves were rippling, with a quiet and a gentle breeze; A ship set sail with a cargo laden for a port beyond the sea. Did she ever return? No, she never returned, and her fate is still unlearned,
We Are Coming, Sister Mary
On a stormy night in winter, When the winds blew cold and wet, I heard some strains of music That I never can forget.
Song Of A Thousand Years
Lift up your eyes desponding freemen! Fling to the winds your needless fears! He who unfurl'd your beauteous banner, Says it shall wave a thousand years!
Shadows On The Floor
Saturday night! Saturday night!
The hope that lingered has taken to flight;
From morning till evening, the weary week through,
In vain has he battled for something to do.
Poor man! emptyhanded, how can he return
To those whose fate hangs on the pence he may earn?
How can he reply to his questioner sweet --
"Did Papa bring Papa's girl somethin' to eat?"