Celius Hudson Dougherty was born in Minnesota. He was born to William Francis Dougherty and Louise Martha Dougherty. Celius was interested in music and poetry from childhood. He claimed that he wrote his first song when he was seven years old. He was part of a musical family, and his mother, a music teacher and church musician, organized her seven children into a band. Celius performed as accompanist for one of his mother's song recitals at age ten.
He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota, where he studied piano with Donald Ferguson and composition. As an undergraduate, he performed his own piano concerto with the school orchestra. In 1924 he won the "Schubert Prize" for piano performance, sponsored by the Schubert Club. He used that scholarship to continue his studies at the Juilliard School, where he was a student of Josef Lhévinne in piano and Rubin Goldmark in composition.
In New York, where he lived for nearly fifty years, he performed his piano Sonata in E Flat at Aeolian Hall in 1925 and his Sonata for Violin and Piano in 1930. As a result of the latter performance, he was given the privilege of working at the MacDowell Colony during the summers of 1931, 1932 and 1933 with artists who were "stimulating influences," including Thornton Wilder, Edgar G. Robinson, Ruth Draper and Padraic Colum. He composed the one-act opera Damia, based on Petronius' Satyricon during these years (1930–32).
He toured as an accompanist to several important singers, such as Maggie Teyte, Eva Gauthier, Povla Frijsh, Jennie Tourel, Marian Anderson, and Alexander Kipnis. These performers often included Dougherty's songs on their programs. He made recordings with Frijsh and Kipnis for Victor in the late 1930s.
Beginning in 1939, he also toured with Vincenz Ruzicika in duo-piano recitals. During the next 16 years, they gave the first performances of duets by Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith, Darius Milhaud, and others. They performed with the Vienna Symphony in 1955. A documentary on the duo was filmed in 1981.
Dougherty retired to Effort, Pennsylvania, and died there in December 1986.