Feather was born in London into a strictly conformist upper-middle-class Jewish family. He learnt to play the piano and clarinet (though was not formally trained), and had started writing about jazz and film by his late teens. At the age of twenty-one Feather made his first visit to the United States, and after working in the U.K. and the U.S. as a record producer finally settled in New York City in 1939, where he lived until moving to Los Angeles in 1960. Feather served as chief jazz critic for the Los Angeles Times until his death. He died in Sherman Oaks, California at the age of eighty.
Feather's compositions have been widely recorded, including "Evil Gal Blues" and "Blowtop Blues" by Dinah Washington, and what is possibly his biggest hit, "How Blue Can You Get?" by blues artists Louis Jordan and B. B. King, and some of his own recordings as a bandleader are still available. But it was as a writer on jazz (as a journalist, critic, historian, and campaigner) that he made his biggest mark: "Feather was for a long time the most widely read and most influential writer on jazz." Even jazz enthusiasts who didn't read his books and articles would have known him from the liner notes that he wrote for hundreds of jazz albums.
He wrote the lyrics to the jazz song "Whisper Not" which was then recorded by Ella Fitzgerald on her 1966 Verve release of the same name.
He is the father of lyricist/songwriter Lorraine Feather.