Henry Russell (December 24, 1812 or 1813 Sheerness, Kent, UK ? December 8, 1900 London) was a popular English pianist, baritone singer and composer, born into a distinguished Jewish family.
In an eventful life on both sides of the Atlantic, Russell wrote the songs A Life on the Ocean Wave and the tune to George Morris's poem Woodman, Spare that Tree while living in the United States of America from 1835 to 1841, before settling in London to produce musical extravaganzas until he retired in 1857. Many of his songs championed social causes like abolition, temperance, and reform of mental asylums.
Russell was a great-nephew of the British Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschel. He began his career as a child singer in Elliston?s Children?s Opera company. While playing the organ at the Presbyterian church in Rochester, New York he discovered that sacred music, played quickly, 'makes the best kind of secular music'. Old Hundredth, played very fast, became the music for 'Get out of de way, Ol' Dan Tucker'.
In 1841, he returned to England and performed at the Hanover Square Rooms in London with instant success. Many of his songs were written to lyrics by Charles Mackay, including There's a Good Time Coming, Cheer, Boys, Cheer, and To The West.
After retirement he lived partly in France, partly in England. His first wife was Christian; his second wife was Jewish and their family (including their son, conductor Sir Landon Ronald) was raised in the Jewish religion.
His portrait was painted by the British painter Walter Goodman and displayed at The Grafton Gallery in London in 1897. The Jewish Chronicle of May 21st that year describes the painting as depicting Russell hale and hearty with flowing beard.
A detailed biography, A Life on the Ocean Wave: The Story of Henry Russell by Andrew Lamb, was published by Fullers Wood Press in 2007.
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