Hays was born Doris Ernestine Hays was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and in 1985 adopted her grandmother's family name of Sorrel. She studied music with Harold Cadek at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, graduating in 1963. She continued her education for three years studying with Friedrich Wührer and Hedwig Bilgram at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich, Germany. She then studied with Paul Badura-Skoda and Rudolf Kolisch at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, graduating with a Master of Music degree.
After completing her studies, Hays taught at Cornell College in Iowa, and then moved to New York City where she studied with pianist Hilde Somer. In 1971 she won first prize in the Gaudeamus Competition for Interpreters of New Music at Rotterdam, and began an international career as a pianist. She is now known as one of the world's foremost performers of cluster piano music.
In 1998 Hays was director of a graduate program in electronic music at Yildiz University, Istanbul. She has also taught as a guest lecturer at colleges and universities including Vassar and Brooklyn College.
Hays composed for stage, films, chamber ensemble and electronic performance. Selected works include:
- Our Giraffe, opera (libretto by Charles Flowers)
- Hands and Lights for piano strings with photocell activated switches and flashlights (1972)
- Tunings for string quartet
- The Glass Woman, opera
- Traveling, based on the microtonal fluctuations of tone generators
- Debushing America
- Take A Back Country Road electronic saxophone, oboe and DX-7
She also worked as a film maker, producing films including:
- Disarming the World/Pulling Its Leg, docudrama
Hays' music has been recorded and issued on media including:
- Dreaming the World, New World Records
- Soundbridge, "90's, A Calendar Bracelet" Opus One 152
- Tone Over Tone, "Past Present and Bits" Opus One 135
- Tellus #17, "Un-Necessary Music" Video Arts Music
- Voicings for Tape/Soprano/Piano Smithsonian Folkways
- M.O.M. ‘N P.O.P. for three pianos, Centaur Records
- Sleepers, "Hush" Finnadar /Atlantic 90266
- Adoration of the Clash, "Sunday Nights" on Finnadar/Atlantic
- Riverrun, "Celebration of NO" and "Sound Shadows" on Wergo
- Sorrel Doris Hays Plays Henry Cowell on Townhall Records
- Live performance from the Cowell festival, Berkeley 1997, on New Albion
- "Obituary for Sorrel Doris Ernestine Hays". Retrieved 16 February 2020.
- "Sorrel Hays". Retrieved 20 December 2010.
- Christine Ammer (2001). Unsung: a history of women in American music.
- Sadie, Julie Anne; Samuel, Rhian (1994). The Norton/Grove dictionary of women composers (Digitized by GoogleBooks but no longer online).
- "EARLY YEARS AND EDUCATION". Retrieved 20 December 2010.