Born Henriette Arlene Lake in Valley City, North Dakota; her mother was a professional singer who regularly toured with musicals. Her maternal grandfather was famed Danish violinist Hans Nielsen. The family resided in Minneapolis, where she attended McPhail School of Music. Her mother also home schooled her in piano. Her parents separated when she was four. She then began to tour with her mother when time permitted. By 11 she was both a well schooled pianist and soloist in singing and spent time singing in her church choir. By 14 she resumed voice lessons. In high school, she not only appeared in several school plays, she even directed a few of them! Also while in high school, she entered state sponsored music composition competitions, and won three years in a row. After she graduated from high school her mother moved to Los Angeles because she had gotten a job a Warner Bros. studios as vocal coach. Sothern chose to move to Seattle where her estranged father had moved, there she enrolled in the University of Washington; but dropped out one year later. At some point after she dropped out of University, she appeared in one silent film (her motion picture debut) as a Fan Dancer extra in 1927; Broadway Nights [this must be around the time that she chose to use a stage name]. The film was shot in New York City and produced by the short lived Robert Kane Productions. She then visited her mother in Los Angeles; while there she auditioned for and got a role in a very early full sound musical revue produced by her mother's employer Warner Bros in 1929: The Show of Shows. The film featured full mono sound by Vitaphone with the Western Electric Apparatus, and had parts that were in very early technicolor. This lead to her signing a 6 month contract with MGM. These titles were the only two films she appeared in during the late silent era. She quickly became disillusioned with Hollywood, and left for Broadway in the 1930's with the help of Florenz Ziegfeld. She returned 3 years later; and had a very long and prolific career in film, radio and television. During the 1950's, she decided to become a business woman and owned a slew of different type of business ventures, from production companies, a sewing store, to a cattle ranch in Idaho. She even managed to record an album in 1958. Some of the notable television appearances came on shows such as: The Loretta Young Show, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The Lucy Show. From 1958-1961 she had her very own television series The Ann Sothern Show. She is also the mother of actress Tisha Sterling (her father is was actor Robert Sterling). The last film she made was in 1987, The Whales of August, with the likes of Lillian Gish, Bette Davis and Vincent Price. This garnered her the only Oscar nomination of her career--that for a supporting role. After this she retired to her ranch in Idaho. She passed away there at the age 92 on the 15th of March 2001. She buried there in the Ketchum Cemetery.