McPherson grew up in Detroit, where he met renowned pianist Barry Harris and started playing jazz professionally at age 19. He moved to New York in 1959 and performed with Charles Mingus from 1960 to 1972. He has toured the US, Europe, Japan, Africa and South America with his own group, as well as with jazz greats Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton, Nat Adderly, Jay McShann and others. McPherson has a long list of recordings as a guest artist with Charlie Mingus, Barry Harris, Art Farmer, Kenny Drew, Toshiko Akiyoshi, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. He has recorded as leader on Prestige, Fantasy, Mainstream, Discovery, Xanadu, and most recently Arabesque and Quadrant.
Charles was also the featured alto saxophonist in the Clint Eastwood film "Bird," a biography about Charlie Parker.