Ezell was one of 10 children born to James McKeown, a Birmingham steelworker, and his wife, Laura Daley. She worked as a seamstress after dropping out of high school. After she married, she and her husband, Joseph, moved to Paterson, New Jersey, where she sewed in the mills. She contracted breast cancer and had a double mastectomy before beating the disease. She retired after her husband and only daughter died in the mid 1980s and moved to Mantua, in Greene County, turning to quilting to pass the time.
Her quilts soon became recognized as works of art, earning her a Folk Heritage Award from the Alabama State Council on the Arts in 1990 and a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1992. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute commissioned a story quilt from Ezell to commemorate the Civil Rights movement in Alabama.
Ezell died of a stroke in September 2007. She was survived by four granddaughters.
- Hevesi, Dennis (September 17, 2007) "Nora Ezell, Alabama Quilter, Dies at 88." New York Times.
- Kemp, Kathy (September 30, 2007) "Miss Ezell: A treasure and a friend." Birmingham News.