When Ali McManus got her pink body cast off on her ninth birthday, after spending 67 days at Beaumont Hospital following hip surgery, her grandmother asked her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“A famous singer,” replied the now-20-year-old, who sang her first choir solo at Detroit Country Day School in third grade.
McManus is well on her way, having signed a recording contract with Jack Douglas, who’s produced countless albums with such heavy hitters as John Lennon, The Who and Aerosmith. She just returned from her second trip in Los Angeles where Douglas’ studio is on the grounds of actor Johnny Depp’s estate in West Hollywood.
An optimistic outlook, coming from a woman who was born three months premature at two pounds and seven ounces and had to undergo 11 surgeries for a rare bone disorder, scoliosis and osteoporosis.
“I’ve experienced four near-death experiences. I am in constant pain, but I love everything about music, and my three minutes of no pain is when I perform or sing a song,” said McManus, who grew up in Bloomfield Hills. She was hospitalized at 13 for nine months in halo traction at Shriners Hospital for Children in St. Louis following spinal surgery. “I feel like there’s a reason that I’m still living. I believe that I need to share my music with people.”
Not only did that surgery save her life, but it increased her lung capacity from below 19 percent to 30 percent, which is quite miraculous, given her singer/songwriter career path. Though McManus is still confined to a wheelchair, awaiting bone stability for another hip surgery, that hasn’t stopped the talented musician who learned to play the piano five years ago and the electric acoustic guitar two years ago. McManus credits John Antone and Joshua Bartolomeo from Axis Music Academy in Birmingham for her twice-a-week combo lessons at her home.
“Josh has really helped me a lot to improve my guitar skills and advance my chord structure. The crazy thing is, I can’t read music. I just do it by ear. And it’s been harder to learn guitar because I can’t look at the strings because my neck is fused, so I just use my sense of touch,” she said.
In addition to her two L.A. recording trips, McManus recently returned from New York City for her album cover photo shoot and has recorded a music video in Detroit. She’s named her EP/CD and title song “Unbreakable,” which is due out in September.
“I wrote ‘Unbreakable,’ because that’s how I live my life. Even though my bones are always breaking, that doesn’t mean that I’m broken. There will be hard times along the road, but nothing will stop me – even if someone tells me that I can’t do something.” McManus regularly plays concerts for the kids at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit and is an Ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network, Axis Music Foundation and Shriners Hospital for Children, along with others around the metro area.
“I had to make a decision when I was at Shriners Hospital for nine months. I’d either be miserable and have an even worse time or make the best of it by being positive. That’s my mindset, and I always suggest people do the same.”
Photo: Laurie Tennent