Lurlean Hunter was born Lurleane Hunter in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on December 1, 1919. Following the pattern of black migration to the North, her family moved to Chicago when she was two months old.
In her senior year at Englewood High, Hunter was already performing club dates, notably with Johnny Long's Swing Band in South Bend, Indiana, in 1938. Upon her graduation, in February of 1939, Hunter pursued her singing ambition, and secured a gig with the Les Hite band at the Parkway Ballroom in January of 1941.
Back in Chicago, in 1944, she auditioned before Red Saunders, who was sufficiently impressed to add her immediately to the Club DeLisa revue, where she became a regular for the next four years, and establish her as a Chicago institution. In late 1945, she interrupted her DeLisa work for a job at the Stairway to the Stars club with the Floyd Campbell Orchestra.