Helen Humes was born in Louisville, Kentucky, United States, was spotted by the guitarist Sylvester Weaver and made her first recordings in 1927, her true young voice consorting oddly with bizarre material such as "Garlic Blues".
She moved to New York City in 1937 and became a recording vocalist with Harry James' big band. Her swing recordings with James included "Jubilee", "I Can Dream, Can't I?", Jimmy Dorsey's composition "It's The Dreamer In Me", and "Song of the Wanderer".
Humes became one of the vocalists with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1938, replacing Billie Holiday as lead female vocalist. Her vocals with Basie's band included "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and "Moonlight Serenade".
During the 1940s and 1950s, Humes became a solo performer and worked with different bands and other vocalists, among them Nat King Cole. She sounded very sprightly on the jump blues Be-Baba-Leba (Philo, 1945) and Million Dollar Secret (Modern, 1950).
In 1950 Humes recorded Benny Carter's "Rock Me to Sleep". She managed to bridge the gap between big band jazz swing and rhythm and blues. She appeared on the bill at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1960.
She moved to Hawaii and then to Australia in 1964, returning to the US in 1967 to take care of her ailing mother. Humes was out of the music industry for several years but made a full comeback in 1973 at the Newport Jazz Festival, and stayed busy up until her death, performing all over Europe, for instance, including at the prestigious Nice Jazz Festival in the mid-1970s. She received the Music Industry of France Award in 1973, and the key to the city of Louisville in 1975.
Helen Humes died of cancer at the age of 68 in Santa Monica, California. She is buried at the Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California.