Born in Victoria, Canada, to Portuguese descendant parents, Nelly was raised within a culturally rich environment, very close to her Latin roots: Portuguese night school, traditional dances workshops, marching bands, and religious festivities were common activities throughout her childhood. All that cultural immersion, and the deep working ethics she learned from her parents at an early age, helped her start a prosperous musical career when she moved to Toronto right after finishing high school.
She started to write her own songs when she joined the hip-hop duo Nelstar, but her wings really started expanding in preparation for the big flight when musicians Brian West and Gerard Eaton, from the funk pop band The Philosopher Kings, decided to record a demo of Nelly's songs that ended up on the desks of DreamWorks Records, which quickly realized the potential of the then teenager and released her first album, Whoa, Nelly! in 2000.
The following year Nelly went on an extensive headlining tour around North America. Whoa Nelly! reached platinum status several times and also got four nominations at the 2002 Grammy Awards. Nelly ended up taking the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "I'm Like a Bird."
Nelly has formed her own record label, Nelstar, in conjunction with Canadian independent label group Last Gang Labels. The first act signed to Nelstar is Fritz Helder & the Phantoms. Furtado released her first Spanish single Manos Al Aire on the new label.