The daughter of a cotton picker mother, she and her three sisters grew in Long Beach, California. After marrying and having two children, she joined the Al Reynolds Singers band. There, she met Marc Gordon, who signed her as a recording artist with Dunhill Records. In 1969, Houston released her first album.
In 1971, she went on to sign with Motown records, but she failed to score any big hits for some time. She went into acting, appearing in The Bingo Long Travelling All Stars and Motor Kings, alongside Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones. In 1976, she sang backgrounds for Jermaine Jackson.
That was the year that she recorded her Any Way You Like It album. In February of 1977, the album's song Don't Leave me This Way became the number one R&B song at the Billboard charts. It had been a hit previously with Harold Melvin and his Blue Notes. Her version had a touch of the Disco era sounds of the time, because of this, many think of it as a Disco hit as well.
Thelma Houston failed to produce another major hit. Her version of Don't Leave me This Way, however, continues to be popular, being mentioned by VH1 among the greatest dance songs in 2000, and also being featured on a VH1 show about one hit wonders.