Born May 19, 1894, in Magdeburg, Germany, to a generational German Band family, Henry Busse studied violin and then trumpet (after a finger he had broken was set incorrectly) under his Oompah Band leader uncle. In 1912, following numerous failed attempts, at age 18, Busse successfully ran away from the family farm outside of Magdeburg, Germany, where he had been forced to play trumpet in his uncle's band. Henry initially "jumped ship" in New York City, landing in the German ghettos there. Rousted by the police for sleeping in Grand Central Station, unable to speak English, he found a job on a boat heading to California. He acquired some English on his trip. 1916 found Busse in Hollywood working as an extra in Keystone Cop films and playing trumpet in a movie theater pit band.
In 1917, Busse played the trumpet with the "Frisco "Jass" Band". He then formed his own band, Busse's Buzzards (which was the nucleus of the Paul Whiteman orchestra of the mid-1920s), featuring Henry Busse — they made four sides in total. Busse was concertmaster for the Whiteman Band when it toured Europe in the 1920s, and there discovered a song written by a German doctor - Robert Katscher [de]. Back in the States, Buddy DeSylva penned new words and the song's name was changed to "When Day is Done"; it was a hit, and made Busse famous.
In 1928, after mastering the English language, Busse Sr. began Henry Busse and the Shuffle Rhythm Band, which enjoyed great success in the 1930s and '40s. A year later, Busse Sr. married Dorothy Drake, a former model and stage actress. Their only son, Henry Busse Jr., was born in 1931, and was three years old when his parents divorced. In 1935, Busse Sr. married Lorayne Brox, member of the Brox Sisters singing trio.
Henry Busse and his Orchestra continued to record and perform up until his death in 1955. Busse died at an undertaker's convention at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, while he was playing with the Shuffle Rhythm Band.