Ayers was born in Los Angeles, and grew up in a musical family, where his father played trombone and his mother played piano. At the age of five, he was given his first pair of vibraphone mallets by Lionel Hampton. The area of Los Angeles that Ayers grew up in, now known as "South Central" but then known as "South Park", was the epicenter of the Southern California Black music scene. The schools he attended (Wadsworth Elementary, Nevins Middle School, and Thomas Jefferson High School) were all close to the famed Central Avenue, Los Angeles' equivalent of Harlem's Lenox Avenue and Chicago's State Street. Roy would likely have been exposed to music as it not only emanated from the many nightclubs and bars in the area, but also poured out of many of the homes where the musicians who kept the scene alive lived in and around Central. During high school, Ayers sang in the church choir and fronted a band named The Latin Lyrics, in which he played steel guitar and piano. His high school, Thomas Jefferson High School, produced some of the most talented new musicians, such as Dexter Gordon.
Ayers started recording as a bebop sideman in 1962 and rose to prominence when he dropped out of City College and joined jazz flutist Herbie Mann in 1966.
In the early-1970s, Roy Ayers started his own band called Roy Ayers Ubiquity, a name he chose because ubiquity means a state of being everywhere at the same time.
Ayers was responsible for the highly regarded soundtrack to Jack Hill's 1973 blaxploitation film Coffy, which starred Pam Grier. He later moved from a jazz-funk sound to R&B, as seen on Mystic Voyage, which featured the songs "Evolution" and the underground disco hit "Brother Green (The Disco King)", as well as the title track from his 1976 album Everybody Loves the Sunshine.
In 1977, Ayers produced an album by the group RAMP, Come into Knowledge. That fall, he had his biggest hit with "Running Away".
In late 1979, Ayers scored his only top ten single on Billboard's Hot Disco/Dance chart with "Don't Stop The Feeling," which was also the leadoff single from his 1980 album "No Stranger to Love", whose title track was sampled in Jill Scott's 2001 song "Watching Me" from her debut album Who Is Jill Scott?
In the late-1970s, Ayers toured in Nigeria for six weeks with Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, one of the Africa's most recognizable musicians. In 1980, Phonodisk released Music of Many Colors in Nigeria, featuring one side led by Ayers' group and the other led by Africa '70.
In 1981, Ayers produced an album with the singer Sylvia Striplin, Give Me Your Love (Uno Melodic Records, 1981). He has also worked in collaborations with soul songstress Erykah Badu.
Ayers performed a solo on John "Jellybean" Benitez's production of Whitney Houston's "Love Will Save The Day" from her second multi-Platinum studio album Whitney. The single was released in July 1988 by Arista Records.
Ayers has played his live act for millions of people across the globe, including Japan, Australia, England and other parts of Europe.
Ayers is known for helping to popularize feel good music in the 1970s, stating that "I like that happy feeling all of the time, so that ingredient is still there. I try to generate that because it's the natural way I am". The types of music that he used to do this consisted of funk, salsa, jazz, rock, soul and rap.
In 1992, Ayers released two albums, Drive and Wake Up, for the hip-hop label Ichiban Records.
In 1992, Ayers collaborated with Rick James for an album and is quoted to have been a very close friend of his.
In 1993, Ayers appeared on the record Guru's Jazzmatazz Vol.1 featuring on the vibraphone in the song "Take a Look (At Yourself)".
In 1994, Ayers appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. The album, meant to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African-American community, was heralded as "Album of the Year" by Time Magazine.
During the 2000s and 2010s, Ayers ventured into house music, collaborating with such stalwarts of the genre as Masters at Work and Kerri Chandler.
Ayers started two record labels, Uno Melodic and Gold Mink Records. The first released several LPs, including Sylvia Striplin's, while the second folded after a few singles.
In 2004, Ayers put out a collection of unreleased recordings called Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased recordings 1976–1981 which allowed fans to hear cuts that didn't make it onto the classic Polydor albums from his more popular years.
Roy Ayers hosts the fictitious radio station "Fusion FM" in Grand Theft Auto IV (2008).
In 2015, he appeared on Tyler, The Creator's new album Cherry Bomb on the track "Find Your Wings".
In 2017, he appeared on Tyler, The Creator's new album "Flower Boy" on the track Pothole featuring Jaden Smith.
A documentary the Roy Ayers Project featuring Ayers and a number hip hop producers who have sampled his music and other people who have been influenced by him and his music has been in development for a number of years.
Pharrell Williams cites Roy Ayers as one of his key musical heroes.
Ayers is a recipient of the Congress of Racial Equality Lifetime Achievement Award.West Coast Vibes (United Artists, 1963)
Virgo Vibes (Atlantic, 1967)
Stoned Soul Picnic (Atlantic, 1968)
Daddy Bug (Atlantic, 1969)
Ubiquity (Polydor, 1971)
He's Coming (Polydor, 1972)
Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival (Verve) – 1973 (Recorded 1972)
Red, Black And Green (Polydor) – 1973
Coffy (Polydor) – 1973
Virgo Red (Polydor) – 1973
Change Up The Groove (Polydor) – 1974
A Tear to a Smile (Polydor) – 1975
Mystic Voyage (Polydor) – 1975
Everybody Loves the Sunshine (Polydor) – 1976
Vibrations (Polydor) – 1976
Daddy Bug & Friends (Atlantic) – 1976 (Recorded 1969)
Crystal Reflections (Muse) – 1977
Lifeline (Polydor) – 1977
Let's Do It (Polydor) – 1978
Step into Our Life (Polydor) – 1978 (w/ Wayne Henderson)
You Send Me (Polydor) – 1978
Fever (Polydor) – 1979
No Stranger To Love (Polydor) – 1979
Love Fantasy (Polydor) – 1980
Prime Time (Polydor) – 1980 (w/ Wayne Henderson)
Music of Many Colors (With Fela Kuti) (Celluloid) – 1980
Africa, Center of the World (Polydor) – 1981
Feelin' Good (Polydor) – 1982
Lots of Love (Uno Melodic) – 1983
Silver Vibrations (Uno Melodic) – 1983
Drivin' On Up (Uno Melodic) – 1983
In The Dark (Columbia) – 1984
You Might Be Surprised (Columbia) – 1985
I'm The One (For Your Love Tonight) (Columbia) – 1987
Drive (Ichiban) – 1988
Wake Up (Ichiban) – 1989
Fast Money (Live at Ronnie Scott's) (Essential) – 1990
Searchin' (Live) (Ronnie Scott's Jazz House) – 1991
Double Trouble (With Rick James) (Uno Melodic) – 1992
Hot (Live at Ronnie Scott's) (Ronnie Scott's Jazz House) – 1992
Good Vibrations (Live) (Ronnie Scott's Jazz House) – 1993
The Essential Groove – Live (Ronnie Scott's Jazz House) – 1994
Vibesman (Live at Ronnie Scott's) (Music Club) – 1995
Nasté (Groovetown) – 1995
Spoken Word (AFI) – 1998
Smooth Jazz (AFI) – 1999
Juice (Charly) – 1999
Live at Ronnie Scott's – London 1988 (Castle) – 2001
"Our Time is Coming" (single with Masters at Work) (MAW Records)—2001
For Café Après-midi (Universal Japan) – 2002
"Good Vibrations" (single with Kerri Chandler) (Mad House Records)—2003
Snoop (Chrysalis) – 2003
Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976–1981 (Rapster) – 2004
Mahogany Vibe (Rapster) – 2004
My Vibes (Snapper Music) – 2005
Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976–1981 (Rapster) – 2005
Virgin Ubiquity Remixed (Rapster) – 2006
Perfection (Aim) – 2006
With Curtis AmyWay Down (Pacific Jazz, 1962)
Tippin' on Through (Pacific Jazz, 1962)
With Herbie MannImpressions of the Middle East (Atlantic, 1966)
A Mann & a Woman (Atlantic, 1966) with Tamiko Jones
The Beat Goes On (Atlantic, 1967)
The Wailing Dervishes (Atlantic, 1967)
Windows Opened (Atlantic, 1968)
Concerto Grosso in D Blues (Atlantic, 1969)
Stone Flute (Embryo, 1969 )
Live at the Whisky a Go Go (Atlantic, 1969)
Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty (Atlantic, 1970)
With David NewmanLonely Avenue (Atlantic, 1972)
Newmanism (Atlantic, 1974)
With Leroy VinnegarLeroy Walks Again!! (Contemporary, 1963)
With Gerald WilsonOn Stage (Pacific Jazz, 1965)
The Golden Sword (Pacific Jazz, 1966)
With Jack WilsonThe Jack Wilson Quartet featuring Roy Ayers (Atlantic, 1963)
Something Personal (Blue Note, 1966)
With Erykah BaduMama's Gun (Motown, 2000)