Brown was born in Meridian, Mississippi, and sang in church as a child. In 1919 her family moved to Chicago and she began studying piano; in the 1920s she began taking gigs in clubs and broadcast on radio.
From the 1930s to the 1950s she toured the United States regularly, recording for Decca Records (among other labels) along the way and recording many humorous, ironic titles such as "Breakin' in a Pair of Shoes", "Mama Don't Want No Peas and Rice and Coconut Oil" and "The Stuff Is Here and it's Mellow". Her stride piano playing was often compared to Fats Waller.
In the 1940s, Brown began to shy from singing bawdy blues songs because of deepening religious beliefs, and in 1953 she retired and became a nurse.