Christian was born into a musical family in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans, most prominently his older brother Frank Christian was a noted cornetist and bandleader. Emile Christian played both cornet and trombone with the Papa Jack Laine bands. He went to Chicago in late 1917 to play trombone with the Bert Kelly Jass Band. In 1918 he went to New York City to replace Eddie Edwards in the Original Dixieland Jass Band; he toured England with the O.D.J.B., contributed his tune "Satanic Blues" to their repertory, and made his first recordings with this band. After a brief time in the Original Memphis Five, he returned to Europe where he played with various jazz bands in Berlin (where he made more recordings), Paris, and other European cities into the mid 1930s. He played in both Black and White bands in Europe and India before returning to the United States after the outbreak of World War II. He moved back to New Orleans in the 1950s where he played with the bands of Leon Prima, Santo Pecora, and Sharkey Bonano and his own band. In 1957 he toured with the Louis Prima Band. He continued playing in New Orleans into 1969, in his later years mostly playing string bass.
Emile Christian also wrote a number of tunes, including "Meet Me At the Green Goose", "Satanic Blues", and "Mardi Gras Parade".