Biographies Henry Russell, 1812-1900

Image: Henry Russell
Henry Russell (R. Street Lith, 1838). Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress.

Henry Russell, born in 1812 in Sheerness, England, was a noted composer, pianist and singer. He began performing at the early age of three, and later studied composition with Rossini and Bellini in Italy. Russell sailed to Canada to perform solo concerts in the mid 1830s, but the most fruitful part of his career was spent in the United States during the late 1830s and early 1840s. As a popular songwriter and performer, he belonged as much to America as to England, since he published his first songs in America and became a successful performer touring the United States, playing and singing many of his own compositions.

Among the many causes he championed through his art was emigration. (Other causes he supported included the elimination of racial intolerance, improving the sad plight of those confined to mental institutions, and the abolition of slavery.) When he returned home to England in the 1840s, he evoked in some of his songs rather fanciful visions of the New World. He even produced a musical stage work, The Emigrant's Progress, consisting of a series of tableaux made to encourage his countrymen to seek the opportunities of the American frontier. Russell continued to perform as a singer until the early 1860s and composed music almost to the end of his life in London in 1900.