Major Lance was born in Winterville, Mississippi, probably in 1939. (Major Lance was his real name; "Major" was not a nickname or a stage name.) As a child, Lance relocated to Chicago, attending the same school as Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler.
His 1959 Mercury debut release, "I Got a Girl", was written and produced by Mayfield, but his career did not take off until he signed with OKeh Records in 1962. For almost all of his early work on OKeh, Curtis Mayfield acted as writer and Carl Davis as producer.
After an inital flop single, "Delilah", the Curtis Mayfield-penned "The Monkey Time" (1963), reached number two on the U.S. Billboard R&B chartand number eight on the corresponding pop listings. The Mayfield/Davis/Lance partnership continued with further hits. These included "Hey Little Girl", a Top 15 R&B and pop hit later that year, and "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um", (1964) which reached number five on the pop chart.The latter song also reached number forty in the UK Singles Chart in February 1964.
Over the next eighteen months, Lance continued to record more singles, nearly all of which reached the R&B Top 40, but only a handful of which — "The Matador", "Rhythm" and "Come See" — were pop hits. "The Matador", incidentally, was written by Carl Davis, Billy Butler and Lance, and would be the only top 40 pop hit of Lance's career not written by Curtis Mayfield.
Mayfield stopped writing for Curtis by the end of 1964, though various Mayfield-written tracks were released as Major Lance singles into 1965. Mayfield's "Come See" would be Lance's final top 40 pop hit in 1965.
Through 1965, Lance recorded songs by a variety of writers, including Van McCoy, Billy Butler and Gerald Sims. Lance's 1965 recordings were produced by the team of Carl Davis and Gerald Sims, but aside from "Too Hot To Hold" (#32 R&B, #93 pop), they met with minimal success.
Following personnel changes at OKeh in 1966, Lance was sent to work with producer Billy Sherrill in Nashville, Tennessee, and recorded material written by a wide range of songwriters, including Dan Penn. Out of this work with Sherrill, only the Penn co-write "It's the Beat" was a Top 40 R&B hit.
Lance then worked with a number of other producers during 1966 and 1967, with only "Without a Doubt" (produced by Gerald Sims) scraping the R&B charts in 1968. He left OKeh shortly after that single, moving to Dakar Records the following year, where he had the R&B hit "Follow the Leader." Within a year, Lance moved to Mayfield's Curtom Records label, which resulted in the singles "Stay Away From Me (I Love You too Much)" and "Must Be Love Coming Down."
Lance had less success after breaking his relationships with Mayfield and OKeh, releasing records on several record labels into the early 1970s, including Osiris Records, which he set up with Al Jackson. To capitlaize on his success in the UK's Northern Soul scene, Lance moved to the United Kingdom for two years beginning in 1972.
After a one-shot return to the R&B charts in 1974 with an updated, re-recorded version of "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um", Lance's recording career began to go into decline. Beginning in 1978, he served a four year prison term for cocaine possession.
After his prison term ended, Lance returned to recording and live performance, but he made few performances (and no studio recordings) after a heart attack in 1987. He died in 1994, at the age of 55, as a result of heart disease, in Decatur, Georgia. He was interred at Washington Memory Gardens Cemetery in Homewood, Illinois.