Autrey was born into a musical family in Evergreen, Alabama, and began on alto horn before taking up trumpet as a teenager and gigging locally in Pittsburgh and Florida. After some time in Florida he worked in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City, where he played with Charlie Johnson in 1933. He first became well-known through Fats Waller, who hired him in 1934 after signing a new contract with Victor Records. He played alongside drummer Harry Dial, guitarist Al Casey, and reedist Gene Sedric. Autrey went on to record extensively with Waller, as well as with Fletcher Henderson and Claude Hopkins.
Autrey worked as a sideman into the 1940s, with Stuff Smith, Sammy Price, Una Mae Carlisle, and others; he also led some ensembles, which sometimes included pianist Herbie Nichols. Early in the 1950s Autrey was hurt in a car crash, sidelining his career for one year. He played with Saints & Sinners in the 1960s, including on their 1968/69 tours of Europe. In 1969 he played with "Buzzy Drootin's Jazz Family" which included Benny Morton, Herb Hall, pianist Sonny Drootin, bassist Eddie Gibbs and Buzzy on drums. In the 1970s he began to lose his playing capacity and spent more time as a vocalist.
- Cook, Richard (2005). Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia. London: Penguin Books. p. 24. ISBN 0-141-00646-3.