Born in Baltimore to a family of professional musicians, Janet Lawson made her singing debut at the age of three and later in her teens performed with big bands. After moving to New York, she began her studies with distinguished composer/arranger Hall Overton and made her debut appearance in the Village Vanguard with the Art Farmer Quartet. Throughout her career she has appeared with, among other jazz greats, Duke Ellington, Tommy Flanagan, Joe Newman, Barney Kessel, Milt Hinton, Ron Carter, Barry Harris, Dave Liebman, David and Lida Baker, Rufus Reid, Clark Terry, Billy Hart, Cedar Walton, Billy Higgins and Bob Dorough.
Lawson was soprano soloist with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in Blood Memories at City Center, New York, and composed and created, with lyricist Diane Snow, the musical Jass is a Lady, supported by NEA and ASCAP Theatre Workshop and produced by Playwrights Horizons in New York City. Lawson has appeared at major New York jazz clubs and has toured the US, Canada and the Far East. She performs mostly in Europe at festivals and clubs, including most recently the Jazz Cafe in London, the Duc des Lombards in Paris, the Copenhagen Jazz House in Denmark with The Very Big Band, plus concerts and clubs throughout Latvia and Lithuania. Her group, the Janet Lawson Quintet, has recorded two albums, The Janet Lawson Quintet, which earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Performance-Female (one of a handful of jazz vocalists to be nominated on her first album, she lost to Ella Fitzgerald), and Dreams Can Be. Cambria Master Recordings recently excerpted the albums for the new CD, The Janet Lawson Quintet, and in 2001, Celeste, a Japanese label, released two CDs drawing from her earlier works plus recordings with David Lahm on Palo Alto's Real Jazz for the Folks Who Feel Jazz and Eddie Jefferson on Inner City’s The Main Man.