Born into a working-class family, Ferry studied fine art at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne before becoming a teacher in London, all the while aiming for a career in music. He formed Roxy Music with a group of friends and acquaintances, including Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay. Their first hit, "Virginia Plain", just missed topping the charts, and they followed up with several hit singles and albums, with Ferry as vocalist and occasional instrumentalist (he taught himself piano in his mid-twenties) and Eno contributing synthesiser backing. Their sartorial style heralded the beginning of the glam rock phenomenon.
By 1973 (see 1973 in music), Ferry had launched a parallel solo career, specialising in cover versions of old standards on albums such as These Foolish Things. Eno soon left Roxy Music, leaving Ferry its undisputed leader. Ferry then began a relationship with model Jerry Hall, and Roxy's success waned as his solo career took off. (His solo album The Bride Stripped Bare is partly about his break-up with Hall.) After a couple of years apart, he re-formed the band and took them to new heights, the pinnacle of their success being their only number one hit, "Jealous Guy", released in tribute to John Lennon - ironically, the only one of their singles not written by Ferry.
Ferry eventually settled down to married life with Lucy Helmore, and they had four sons. He continued to make occasional comeback albums, such as Taxi and As Time Goes By, even teaming up again with Brian Eno for Mamouna.