His most popular songs were "Woodman! Spare That Tree!" (1837), "The Ivy Green" (1838), "The Old Arm Chair" (1840), "Our Native Song" (1841), "A Life by de Galley Fire" (1848) and "Cheer, Boys, Cheer!" (1850), and "A Life on the Ocean Wave."
He studied composition with Gioacchino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti, and sang with Michael William Balfe. 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. From 1833-1841 he was an organist at the First Presbyterian Church of Rochester, NY. During 1837-1841, he toured as a piano accompanist for the singer William Vincent Wallace. He returned to England in the early 1840s.