Payne was born in Detroit, Michigan and grew up listening to different jazz singers, such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. As a teenager, she attended the Institute of Musical Arts; she soon began singing radio commercial jingles, and took part in (and won many of) local TV and radio talent shows.
In 1963, she moved to New York and worked with many different entertainers, including Quincy Jones, Pearl Bailey, and Bill Cosby. The next year, her debut album, a jazz recording entitled "After the Lights Go Down Low and Much More !!!", was released on the Impulse! label. (This album was re-issued on CD in Japan in early 2002, and again in the United States in 2005.) Three years later, she released her second album (another jazz effort) "How Do You Say I Don't Love You Anymore", for MGM Records. She also made occasional guest appearances on different television shows including The Merv Griffin Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.