Carol Douglas - aka Carolyn Strickland and Carolyn Cooke - was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York. She is the daughter of Minnie Newsome, a jazz performer who has been cited as the inspiration for the Cab Calloway classic "Minnie the Moocher"; Douglas' father was a mortician. Sam Cooke was Douglas' cousin. At the age of 10 Douglas was a contestant and winner on the game show Name That Tune and says "Ebony followed my career for the next three years". Douglas attended the Willard May School for professional children and afterwards the Quintanos High School for young professionals alongside Gregory Hines, Bernadette Peters, Carol Lynley and Patty Duke. While in high school Douglas sang in a female trio named April May & June who were signed as a management client by Little Anthony and the Imperials. Douglas made a one-off recording in 1963 for RCA Victor cutting the single "I Don't Mind (Being Your Fool)" under the name Carolyn Cooke: becoming pregnant with her first son at age 15 ended RCA's interest in promoting her. Douglas also cut several jingles for TV commercials - "[I] used to do voiceovers for Ideal Toys and General Mills with Bernadette Peters" - but recalls: "I never thought I would be a singer", and for most of the 1960s Douglas pursued an acting career, appearing in an episode of her classmate's The Patty Duke Show but mostly acting in theatrical productions beginning with One Tuesday Morning starring Clarice Taylor. Later Douglas understudied Jonelle Allen in the off-Broadway production of The Life of Mary McCloud Bethune and co-starred with James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson in the play Moon on a Rainbow Shawl.