Nevin was born on November 25, 1862, at Vineacre, on the banks of the Ohio River, in Edgeworth, Pennsylvania. There he spent the first sixteen years of his life, and received all his schooling, most of it from his father, Robert P. Nevin, editor and proprietor of a Pittsburgh newspaper, and a contributor to many magazines. (It is interesting to note that Robert Nevin also composed several campaign songs, among them the popular "Our Nominee," used in the day of James K. Polk's candidacy). The first grand piano ever taken across the Allegheny Mountains was carted over for Nevin's mother. Other members of the Nevin family showed musical inclinations as well; Nevin's younger brother, Arthur, also achieved some renown as a composer, as did his cousins George and Gordon Balch Nevin.