When aspiring singer Scott Mannis was 17 years old, he began periodically losing feeling in the left side of his body, specifically in his leg. It took three years for doctors to diagnose his condition as a rare form of epilepsy, whose symptoms can be minimized, but for which there is no cure.
But Mannis, now a 24-year-old astrophysics student at Columbia University, found a temporary reprieve through music. "By 2008, the seizures got bad enough that I wasn't able to walk without falling," he tells Billboard. "The only time I didn't have them was when I was singing."
It's a peculiarity that hasn't been lost on music industry veteran Susan Collins, who has worked with Electric Light Orchestra and the "Saturday Night Live" band. She's also functioned as Mannis' vocal coach/mentor for the past four years. Collins met the singer's mother, Robin Stern, through mutual friends and listened to a few of his tracks. In mid-2009, after a year of vocal lessons, Collins brought Mannis into Grammy Award-winning producer Art Labriola's New York studio to record a demo.
"I took him as a vanity project to do one demo," Collins tells Billboard. "And from that we started going back and recording more tracks."
The three continued working together during the next two-and-a-half years as Mannis attended school. After realizing they might have enough material for an album, the trio co-wrote the song "Angel in the Red Dress," which later became the title of Mannis' new set. The album was released Dec. 20 on Scott Mannis Music during a release party at Iguana in Manhattan, and is available for purchase on CD Baby, iTunes and Amazon.
Mannis is donating a portion of the album's proceeds to Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, an organization he's previously worked with that is dedicated to finding a cure. Mannis has already donated $500 that was raised during the album release party to CURE. A percentage of all his album sales for this and future projects will be donated to CURE and similar organizations, he says, and though he plans to perform more benefits, none were confirmed at press time.