Born in Detroit in 1937, the young Alice MacLeod studied classical piano and played organ in area churches. In her early adulthood she moved to Paris for a short time; following a return to Detroit and some experience in clubs there, she went to New York in 1962 in pursuit of a serious career in jazz.
It was in New York that she met John Coltrane. The two "connected instantly," according to The New York Times, and she soon began living and traveling with him. They married in 1965 upon his divorce from his first wife; by that point, two of their three children had been born.
Following John's death in 1967, Alice Coltrane continued composing and performing jazz on piano, harp and organ. She made four recordings as bandleader and played with many notable artists, among them Ron Carter, Charlie Haden, Reggie Workman and Carlos Santana. By the late 1970s, she largely gave up public performance in favor of her religious and spiritual work, but beginning in the late 1990s she returned to the stage occasionally, giving concerts with her son Ravi Coltrane. Following the release in 2004 of Translinear Light, her first studio recording in nearly three decades, she appeared in a number of cities with Ravi and his brother Oran.
John Coltrane had introduced Alice to Indian religion and spirituality, to which she largely devoted her life and work after his death. She first became a disciple of Swami Satchidananda and subsequently followed the South Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba. In 1975 she established an ashram, called the Vedanta Center, in San Francisco; in 1983 she moved it to a 48-acre compound, now called the Sai Anantam ashram, in the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles. Known there as Swami Turiyasangitananda (Sanskrit for "the highest song of God"), according to the Times, she led more than two dozen full-time residents in meditation and study of Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim religious texts.
In addition to all of this, Alice Coltrane managed her late husband's estate and his publishing company, Jowcol Music. In 2001, she and her daughter Michelle founded the John Coltrane Foundation, which awards scholarships to young musicians and encourages jazz performance. That foundation is one of four charities (along with Habitat for Humanity, among others) to which the Coltrane family has asked that donations be sent in lieu of flowers.