The band was founded in Atlanta, Georgia in 1977. The original group members included Willie "Sonny" Killebrew (saxophone), Billy Ellis (flute), Jason "T.C." Bryant (keyboards), Bruno Speight (guitar), John Simpson (bass), James Earl Jones III (drums), and Mary Davis (lead vocals, keyboards). It was originally known as Santa Monica. The band later changed its name to The S.O.S. Band, an acronym for Sounds of Success. After listening to its demo and being impressed with their sound, Tabu Records signed the group to its first recording contract.
In 1980, the group released its first hit single, "Take Your Time (Do It Right)", which was certified platinum and sold over 2 million copies. Its debut album, S.O.S., went gold and sold over 800,000 copies. Trumpeter, vocalist, and percussionist Abdul Ra'oof joined the band while it was on a world tour.
In 1983, the band joined forces with then-new production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who went on to craft a string of R&B hits for the group, which included "Just Be Good to Me," "High Hopes," "Tell Me If You Still Care," "Borrowed Love," "No One's Gonna Love You," "Just the Way You Like It," and "The Finest."
The Jam-Lewis-produced S.O.S. Band hits are notable for popularizing the use of the Roland TR-808 drum machine (and its distinctive cowbell sound) in popular music. The group continues to tour and perform to this day.
The song "Just Be Good to Me" was covered in 1990 by Beats International (aka Norman Cook or Fatboy Slim); the resultant song made its way to UK number one single as "Dub Be Good to Me." The song was reworked with the bass line of The Clash's "Guns of Brixton." It was also covered by Shayne Ward on his 2007 album, Breathless. The song "Tell Me If You Still Care" was covered in 1995 by fellow Atlanta native Monica on her debut album Miss Thang and sampled by Janet Jackson in her 2006 hit "Call On Me." The Bingoboys performed a cover of "Borrowed Love" as the follow-up single of its 1991 dance hit "How to Dance." In 1996 the instrumental track of "No One's Gonna Love You" was used by Maxwell on a remix of his hit "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)" aptly retitled "Ascension (No One's Gonna Love You, So Don't Ever Wonder): The Tribute."
Lead vocalist Mary Davis left the group in 1987 to pursue a solo career, and was replaced by Chandra Currelley beginning with the band's 1989 Diamonds in the Raw album. More recently, Currelley has been active as an actress and vocalist in Tyler Perry plays and films. When Davis"s solo career was not as successful as she hoped, she reunited with the band in 1994.