Reid was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia. She sang in church and in high school in Georgia, and moved to New York City in 1947 after her mother died. Toward the end of 1947, she tried out for an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and won the competition for five straight weeks. Soon after she was offered a slot as the featured vocalist with Dick Vance at the Savoy Ballroom, which she held from 1948 to 1950.
In 1961–62, Reid sang with Count Basie's orchestra, and recorded for Verve Records. Her debut for Verve, Room For One More (1965), arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, featured many of the leading musicians of the day: Charlie Mariano, Jerome Richardson, Phil Woods, Jerry Dodgion, Thad Jones, Joe Newman, Jimmy Cleveland, Urbie Green, J.J. Johnson, Kenny Burrell, Bob Cranshaw, Roger Kellaway and Grady Tate.
Two Buddy Johnson classics are featured among a memorable program. Both “Save Your Love For Me" and “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone" find Reid belting out an emotionally charged message with perfect intonation and just the right touch of reverb provided by the eminent . She later performed in a Broadway production of the musical The Wiz. Additionally, she sang with Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin, and B.B King. Reid receded from fame in the 1970s and 1980s, but launched a comeback near the end of that decade. She appeared at the Savannah Jazz Festival in 1991, 1994, and 1996, and continued releasing albums on Savant Records in the 1990s and 2000s.
- It's Only the Beginning for Irene Reid (MGM, 1963)
- Room for One More (Verve, 1965)
- It's Too late (Verve, 1966)
- A Man Only Does (What a Woman Makes Him Do) (Verve, 1967)
- The World Needs What I Need (Polydor, 1971)
- Two Of Us (Glades, 1976)
- The Lady from Savannah (Birdland, 1989)
- Thanks to You (Inspire, 1991)
- Million Dollar Secret (Savant, 1997)
- I Ain't Doing Too Bad (Savant, 1999)
- The Uptown Lowdown (Savant, 1999)
- Movin' Out (Savant, 1999)
- One Monkey Don't Stop No Show (Savant, 2001)
With Count Basie