McShann was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma. In 1931 he was a professional musician, and performed many on around Tulsa , Oklahoma and neighboring Arkansas. In 1936 he moved to Kansas City in Missouri, and in 1939 presented its first own big band together, where later among other things people like Charlie Parker, Bernard Anderson and her co-stars Walter Brown in.
The band took apart swing-also many blues songs, the most popular recording was that of "Although The Blues". When McShann in 1944 were called to fulfill his military service to go the Orchestra fell apart, but it was reformed when he was fired later that year.
In the second half of the forties led McShann different combos, in which among other things Jimmy Witherspoon played a striking role. The first recording with Witherspoon dates back to 1945. It was only in 1969, he became widely known as a singer and pianist, he has performed often around that time with Claude Williams.
He continued to gig and record record up to in the course of the 1990s, and has also performed at the age of 80 in, especially near Kansas City. In 1998, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. He died In 2006, after a short illness, aged 90.