Nikanor Abelardo was born on February 7, 1893, in San Miguel De Mayumo (now San Miguel), Bulacan, Philippines. He was the first of eight children of Valentin Abelardo and Placida Santa Ana.
Abelardo's ancestry is remarkable otherwise. His mother's father, Jose Santa Ana, descended from a line of smiths and woodcarvers, was a goldsmith and member of the town band. Although Valentin Abelardo's father was a spoiled one and showed only a slight inclination for music, it was from his maternal ascendants that the arts found an expression.
When baby Nicanor in his crib started crying if rocked to the tune of some lugubrious melody or lullaby, like that one employed in passion singing but calmed down the moment a lively tune or folk song was sung.