Nelson was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Evelyn Hines and James Nelson. She established her career as a singer, both on the off-Broadway and Broadway stage and in cabaret-style locales. Nelson was a featured performer on Broadway in 1970 in the musical, Purlie, in which she sang DOWN HOME with Cleavon Little and HE CAN DO IT with Melba Moore. In 1975, Nelson directed the play "Le Femme Noir" at the Joseph Papp Public Theater. Her career in films did not begin until she was approaching middle age, with a small part in 1978's An Unmarried Woman. Over the next thirty years, she continued to play small roles in movies Nelson works as an instructor for voice-over actors. In June, 2009, she appeared in a Boston production of Oedipus.
Arcana A1001, made by Desto Records, NYC, unknown date, "Novella Nelson".
Songs: Mean World; Long Road Home; (Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay; Lilac Wine; Johnny (Guns and Drums); I'm Troubled; Do What You Gotta Do; Cold Water Flat; Porgy; I Wish I Knew How It Would feel To Be Free.