Born Ida Prather in Toccoa, Georgia, she left home at fourteen to tour with a minstrel revue. Cox excelled at vaudeville singing, but when the popularity of vaudeville shows began to fade, she transformed herself into a formidable blues singer and worked the Southern tent show and vaudeville circuit. She spent some time with pianist Jelly Roll Morton before signing a recording contract with Paramount in 1923.
In 1923 she made her first blues recordings, "Graveyard Dream Blues" and "Weary Way Blues," for the Paramount label. She met with immediate success and went on to record seventy-eight songs between 1923 and 1929, including "Cemetery Blues," "Handy Man," and her best-known song, "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues." Cox wrote most of the songs that she recorded.
Many of the seventy- eight songs Cox recorded for the label through 1929, and with other labels like Broadway and Silvertone (using pseudonyms such as Kate Lewis, Velma Bradley, Julia Powers, and Jane Smith) dealt with themes aimed at female audiences. Ida seemed to sing directly to Black women who saw themselves trapped by demeaning racial and social conditions, yet longed for dignity and respect, especially from the men in their lives. One of Cox's most enduring songs, "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues," hinted at sexual freedom. Two other Cox classics, "Pink Slip Blues" which dealt with the woes of unemployment, and "Last Mile Blues" a song about capital punishment, revealed a decidedly female view of social issues.
Ida Cox may have been the complete classic blues artist of the 1920s. Ida had a convincing blues delivery that made her one of the more popular female singers of the era like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Cox symbolized the liberated spirit of some black American blues women in the '20s with her stylish outlook, lavish wardrobe, and business savvy. Cox wrote many of her own songs, often produced her own stage shows, and managed her own touring company, appropriately called Raisin' Cain.
With many blues fans Cox is best remembered for her graveyard songs- "Graveyard Dream Blues" "New Graveyard Dream Blues" "Coffin Blues" "Bone Orchard Blues" and "Cemetery Blues". In the 1930s Cox continued to perform and occasionally record.
In 1939 Cox performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City as part of John Hammond's second presentation of From Spirituals to Swing. She sang "Lowdown Dirty Shame" and "'Fore Day Creep" before a sold-out, integrated audience. The historic concert introduced the blues diva to a crowd that was perhaps just beginning to appreciate the artistry and significance of black music.