Work was a composer of popular songs as well as a painter and editor. "We are Coming, Sister Mary" was his first composition in 1843. In 1854 he went to Chicago as a printer but his success as a composer finally came with songs about the Civil War. Cady, who published some of these songs in his magazine "The Song Messenger" admonished Work to compose after an extended hiatus. In 1876, Work's "Grandfather's Clock" appeared in print and subsequently became his most famous non-war song.