Travis was born in Kentucky but raised in Kansas City, Missouri. He and his older brothers earned popularity as child singers, performing at churches and on the radio. He attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City and was a member of the ROTC, where he achieved the rank of Captain.
Travis joined the U. S. Army Air Force in 1943 and trained in Tuskegee as an aerial engineer, gunner and crew chief. He was assigned to the 477th Bombardment Group and served stateside at several U. S. bases.
After the war he returned to school at Western Reserve University. He became an accountant for the Standard Oil Company and retired after a 32-year career. He and his wife, the former Marian Offutt, had two sons, James Jr. and Mark.
- Segall, Grant (June 2, 2009) "James Travis, one of surviving Tuskegee Airmen, is dead at 86." Cleveland Plain Dealer