Carmen Sanabia Von Ellinger was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, on January 9th of 1881. Her parents were José Sanabia Crespo and Inocencia Von Ellinger López. Inocencia was a pianist and Carmen's first teacher. When Carmen was young she had to help the family by giving piano lessons. On one occasion, when Carmen was performing in a concert, Don José Celso Barbosa, a distinguished Puerto Rico, was so impressed with her playing that he began to collect money for a scholarship for Carmen to study abroad. During this time Carmen's father died and Carmen was forced to look after her younger siblings, preventing her from accepting the scholarship that Dr. Barbosa offered her. She started teaching in Aguadilla and taught music to her brothers.
She met Jesús Figueroa at Jose Lequerica's house and in 1903 they get married. In 1908 Carmen moved to San Juan with Jesús and started performing concerts at the University of Puerto Rico and the Municipal Theater and the Municipal Band in Río Piedras. She was the founder of the "Academia de Música Figueroa" and was very proud of her eight children that with her help were able to study with prominent teachers in Spain and France.