Notes on Kingdom Coming
"George F. Root, ..., 'discovered' the composer of 'Kingdom Coming' and other nineteenth-century popular classics. In his autobiography Root tells of his first meeting with Henry Clay Work (1832-1884):
One day early in the war a quiet and rather solemn-looking young man, poorly clad, was sent up to my room from the store [Root & Cady] with a song for me to examine. I looked at it and then at him in astonishment. It was 'Kingdom Coming,'--elegant in manuscript, full of bright, good sense and comical situations in its 'darkey' dialect--the words fitting the melody almost as aptly and neatly as Gilbert fits Sullivan--the melody decidedly good and taking, and the whole exactly suited to the times.... He needed some musical help that I could give him, and we needed just such songs as he could write. The connection, which continued some years, proved very profitable both to him and to us....
"'Kingdom Coming' was introduced by Christy's Minstrels in Chicago with much promotional fanfare in April 1862; it was published the next month and quickly spread far beyond Chicago. The events pictured in the song, casually referred to by Root as 'comical situations,' are grim and bitterly satiric. Work was not unacquainted with the realities of slave life: his abolitionist father was an active participant in helping runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad and their home in Illinois was a 'station'; the father served a jail sentence for his activities. The great tune itself, perfectly fit for a jubilee and one of the most memorable of the era, creates a double edge to the satire. How far removed it all is from the gentle dreamworld of Stephen Foster's plantations with their slaves mourning the good master in the cold, cold ground." (Richard Jackson, Popular Songs of Nineteenth-Century America, Dover, 1976, p. 273)