Angella Nazarian was born as Angella Maddahi in Tehran, Iran in the late 1960s. Her father was a bazaar trader from Rasht. His family name was originally Yacobzadeh; he changed it to Maddahi to obviate antisemitic discrimination. Moreover, they did not tell other people they were Jewish. She has a sister and three brothers. She was educated at Ettefagh, a Jewish school in Tehran.
During the Iranian Revolution of 1979, she immigrated to the United States with her family, settling in Beverly Hills, California, where her uncle and brothers lived. The next year, her parents went back to Iran to sell their assets, but they were not allowed to leave because of the ongoing Iran–Iraq War. By 1985, they managed to escape to Pakistan, and were sent back to the United States by the Jewish Federations of North America. Both Angella and her parents received political asylum in the United States. They are not allowed to visit Iran again. An interview of her early life as a refugee conducted by JIMENA was published in The Jerusalem Post.
Nazarian was a Professor of Psychology at Mount St. Mary's University, California State University, Long Beach and the Los Angeles Valley College for eleven years.
She is a non-fiction author and has written three books. Her first book, Life as a Visitor, chronicled her departure from Iran and life as a refugee in California. Her second book, Pioneers of the Possible: Celebrating Visionary Women of the World, was a collection of essays about female role models. Her third book,Visionary Women, highlights the lives of twenty female luminaries of modern times.
Nazarian was a speaker at the 2012 Milken Institute Global Conference. In 2013, she organized a conference on women's rights called Women A.R.E.. Speakers included Wallis Annenberg and Sharon Stone.
Angella is the co-founder of Looking Beyond, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness and enriching the lives of children and young adults with special needs.
In 2015, Angella co-founded the non-profit women’s leadership organization, Visionary Women, along with her co-founders, Former Mayor of Beverly Hills and City Council member, Honorable Lili Bosse, and Former US Ambassador, Nicole Avant, and Veronica Smiley, bringing together some of the most dynamic thought leaders in the country together for in depth conversations. She now serves as the organization’s president. Speakers include: 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee, President of Conde Nast Entertainment, Dawn Ostroff, Vice President of Original Content at Netflix,Pauline Fischer, and five time Emmy Winning journalist, Giselle Fernandez.
With her husband, he has endowed the David and Angella Nazarian Youth Program at Sinai Temple, a Conservative synagogue in Westwood, for children from the 9th to the 12th grade. In 2014, they were also honored for their Jewish and pro-Israel philanthropy by Hillel 818, the chapter of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life for students at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), Pierce College and the Los Angeles Valley College. Additionally, they endowed the Angella and David Nazarian Social Innovators in Residence program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
She is a member of the Iranian American Women Foundation and has spoken at conferences on their behalf.
She is married to David Nazarian, an investor and son of business mogul and philanthropist Younes Nazarian. They have two sons.