Dorris Henderson was born in Lakeland, Florida, USA. She taught herself to play the autoharp, and learnt to play American folk songs. She worked as a civil servant. She loved to visit jazz clubs, and she herself started to play at folk clubs in California. She knew Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
During a holiday in New York she performed in folk clubs and met Bob Dylan.
In 1965 She decided to visit England, and took a boat to Southampton. She lived in Tottenham at first, staying with someone she met on the boat – it was very hard for black people to find accommodation then.