Educational psychologist Percy Bates was born July 8, 1932 in Pensacola, Florida. Raised by his mother, Gladys Travis Bates, he attended Spencer Bibbs Elementary School and Booker T. Washington High School. After moving to Detroit, Bates ran track and played football at Hamtramack High School, and he graduated from there in 1950. Entering the United States Army in 1952, Bates served at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, where he sang with fellow soldier and pianist Earl Grant. After earning his B.S. degree in biology from Central Michigan University in 1958, Bates received his M.A. in vocational rehabilitation in 1961 from Wayne State University and his Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968.