B. J. Arnau grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Her biography in the programme for the musical version of Two Gentlemen of Verona states that she began in show business at the age of 10. As of this 1973 programme, her career highlights include work as lead singer in the Cotton Club Revue in Las Vegas with Duke Ellington; a leading role in the film Finian's Rainbow, subsequently being named the first African-American pin-up girl by the American Forces in Vietnam; she spent a year in Vietnam singing and talking to the soldiers. Arnau recounts that she was making a cabaret appearance at the Playboy Club in London when Kenneth Tynan offered her a role in Oh! Calcutta!. Arnau sang the title song to the James Bond film Live and Let Die.