Carrington was born in Medford, Massachusetts, into a musical family: her mother played piano as a hobby and her father was a saxophonist and president of the Boston Jazz Society. At the age of seven, Carrington was given a set of drums that had belonged to her grandfather, Matt Carrington, who had played with Fats Waller and Chu Berry. After studying privately for three years, she played her first major performance at theWichita Jazz Festival with Clark Terry. At the age of 11 she received a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music. When she was 12 years old she was profiled on the PBS kids' biography program Rebop.
At Berklee College of Music she played with musicians such as Kevin Eubanks, Donald Harrison, and Greg Osby. She also studied under drum instructor Alan Dawson and made a private recording entitled TLC and Friends, with Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, George Coleman and her father.
Throughout high school she traveled across the country doing clinics at various schools and colleges.
In 1983, encouraged by her mentor, Jack DeJohnette, Carrington moved to New York, where she worked with Stan Getz, James Moody, Lester Bowie, Pharoah Sanders, Cassandra Wilson, David Sanborn, and others.
In the late 1980s Carrington relocated to Los Angeles, where she gained recognition on late-night TV as the house drummer for The Arsenio Hall Show, then again in the late 1990s as the drummer on the late night TV show VIBE, hosted by Sinbad. In 1996 she collaborated with Peabo Bryson on "Always Reach For Your Dreams", a song commissioned for the 1996 Olympic Games.
Notably, in recent years, she has included Esperanza Spalding, Geri Allen, Helen Sung, James Genus, Bob Hurst, Patrice Rushen, Tineke Postma, Ingrid Jensen, Nona Hendryx, Chihiro, Everette Harp, Greg Phillinganes, Lori Perry, Robert Irving III, Dwight Sills, Lawrence Fields, Randy Runyon, Gary Thomas, Aruan Ortiz, and Munyungo Jackson in her band configurations. In Summer 2011, she appeared with Wayne Shorter (with John Pattituci and Danilo Perez) in South America, and is the Musical Director of the international "Sing The Truth" Tour, featuring Dianne Reeves, Lizz Wright andAngelique Kidjo (with Romero Lubambo, Geri Allen, James Genus and Munyungo Jackson).
As a recording artist, in 1988 Carrington started concentrating her efforts on writing and producing her own works, resulting in Real Life Story, her 1989Grammy-nominated debut CD featuring Carlos Santana, Shorter, Grover Washington, Jr., Gerald Albright, John Scofield, Hiram Bullock, Patrice Rushen, Osby, and Dianne Reeves, Jazz is a Spirit, her 2002 European CD featuring Herbie Hancock, Wallace Roney, Terence Blanchard, Kevin Eubanks and Gary Thomas, and Structure, her 2004 European CD with Jimmy Haslip, Osby and Adam Rogers. Also, after a 20-year hiatus from U.S. recording, Carrington released the 2009 CD More to Say ... Real Life Story: NextGen, a sequel to her Real Life Story CD. The album features Nancy Wilson, Les McCann, George Duke, Kirk Whalum, Everette Harp, Christian McBride, Jimmy Haslip, Greg Phillinganes, Robert Irving III, Patrice Rushen, Chuck Loeb, Walter Beasley, Anthony Wilson, Lawrence Fields, Ray Fuller, Dwight Sills, Lori Perry and Chris Walker, with a special appearance by Sonny Carrington. Most of the 15 tracks on the CD are written or co-written by Carrington. In 2011 The Mosaic Project, her fifth album overall and her first on Concord Jazz, which featured a number of singers including Shea Rose, was released in 2011. It won the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
As an entrepreneur, Carrington is a partner in Hebert-Carrington Media (HCM). Founded in 2007 and based in Atlanta, Boston, New Jersey, Washington, DC, Chicago, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, HCM's origins can be traced to the long-term relationships with company co-founder Robert A. Hebert, high-tech entrepreneurs Frank White, Jr. and Dr. Bernard Yaged, and media and communications advisor Don Lucoff of DL Media.