Katherine Cheung was born in Canton, China in 1904. When she was 17 she moved with her father to California to study music at the Los Angeles Conservatory. After graduating, she continued her studies at Cal Poly Pomona and the University of Southern California.
Even while in school, she had a wild streak that sometimes broke out of the demure, ladylike persona that society expected. She convinced her father to teach her to drive, a mark of independence unusual among women at the time. It was during one of these lessons with her father in a parking lot near the airport, that she became interested in an even more unusual skill—flying.