Lance and Otis Leavill formed a group named the Floats in the mid 1950s but broke up before recording any material. Lance became a featured dancer on a local television show, Time for Teens, and presenter Jim Lounsbury gave him a one-off record deal with Mercury Records. Mercury released his single "I Got a Girl", written and produced by Curtis Mayfield, in 1959; it was not successful.
In 1962 he signed with Okeh Records on Mayfield's recommendation. His first single, "Delilah", was not successful, but it established his partnership with the writing and arranging team of Mayfield, Carl Davis, and Johnny Pate, often with members of Mayfield's group, the Impressions, on backing vocals.
The second Okeh single, "The Monkey Time" (also written by Curtis Mayfield), was Major Lance's first hit, became a No. 2 Billboard R&B chart and No. 8 pop hit in 1963.
In 1965 Pate left Okeh, and Mayfield began to concentrate on working with his own group.
During the 1960s, Lance toured the UK, where he was supported by Bluesology, a band including pianist Reggie Dwight, later known as Elton John.
Soon afterwards Lance left Okeh and moved to Dakar Records, where he had the Top 40 R&B hit "Follow the Leader." He then moved to Mayfield's Curtom label, which resulted in his last two Top 40 R&B hits.
In 1972, he relocated to England so as to capitalize on the success of his older records among fans of Northern Soul music in dance clubs that played mostly rare and obscure American soul and R&B records. According to one writer, "[T]he Major's contribution was truly phenomenal and unforgettable... [He] was to become legendary as a UK club act, known to deliver 110% at every performance."
In 1972, while in England, he recorded an album, Major Lance's Greatest Hits Recorded Live at the Torch, at the Torch, a club in Stoke on Trent, which has been described as "perhaps the best Northern Soul album ever made."
He died in 1994 in his sleep from heart disease in Decatur, Georgia, aged fifty five.