Born in Los Angeles with a Russian-Jewish heritage, Arvey studied piano in her youth, performing throughout the United States and Latin America. She appeared as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1939.
In addition to her musical career, Arvey also had a distinguished career as a journalist and contributed articles to many well-known publications, including The New York Times and Musical America. Her 1984 book In One Lifetime is a biography of her late husband, William Grant Still.
Most notably, Arvey was devoted to promoting her husband's music and contributed some lyrics to Still's successful opera Troubled Island, as well as texts to the song cycle From the Hearts of Women and the orchestral song "Rhapsody".