Livvie Forbes, 18, debuts her new album Thursday night made with help from members of The Hooters, Philadelphia iconic rock band
As a young child, Livvie Forbes was like most other kids her age in suburban Philadelphia.
She was “a sparkly, effervescent kid – full of life,” says her father, Michael, 63, an attorney.
But that all changed when Livvie entered second grade. A mysterious seizure started a litany of painful medical problems that would puzzle scores of doctors for many years before a diagnosis was finally made.
And the medical problems caused Livvie to “look different,” says the now 18-year-old, who lives in Wayne, Pennsylvania, with her parents.
It was a difference that caused kids to bully her for the next decade.
“They called me fat and stupid,” she says. “I was beaten up, called Big Bird. And it was constant. There were a lot of days where I wished I was not alive.”
Livvie turned to music to distract herself from the psychic pain of the bullies and the tremendous physical pain of her ailments. But in high school, that all began to change.
Livvie’s Adele-like voice during a school performance led to a sudden stop of the bullying. She recorded a demo CD, and when a member of the iconic Philadelphia rock band The Hooters heard it, he was so impressed he got Livvie into a studio to create her first record, Chronic. It debuts Thursday night with a performance at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.
“Music has basically saved my life and without it, I don’t know where I’d be right now,” she says. “I’m never happier than when I am performing.”
Around the age of 6, Livvie had a major seizure. Soon after, the once-joyful Livvie mushroomed to five feet tall and gained a lot of weight within months. Livvie’s joints began dislocating, spraining, or, in the case of her ankles, broke. If the car stopped too short, Livvie ended up with a concussion.
“There were times we thought I broke a bone and I’d be in pain, screaming and crying in the ER,” she says, “but nothing showed up.”
The pain was made worse by the bullying, which had escalated in middle school to physical violence.
“I got choked in seventh grade,” she says. “I got physically beaten up every once in awhile.”
Meanwhile, Livvie’s parents had been taking her to doctor after doctor, 56 in all. Always in pain of varying degrees, she had to start using a walker or cane, and was severely depressed and anxious.
“Livvie really, really struggled,” says her mother, Nancy, 59, who manages her husband’s law practice. “We were scared.”
It wasn’t until high school that Livvie was properly diagnosed with three different disorders: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which affects connective tissues and causes overly-flexible joints; Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain syndrome, in which the brain and spinal cord cause abnormally intense levels of pain; and Polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder that can cause weight gain.
Through all this, Livvie wrote songs to soothe her soul, and learned to play the ukulele, piano, guitar, bass and violin. She took guitar lessons with Matt McAndrew, a pal who ended up as a finalist on The Voice and included a snippet with Livvie in a video on the hit show.
Livvie also started singing, and in tenth grade began studying with voice teacher Susan Dash in nearby Devon.
Some days, Livvie’s pain was so overwhelming that she had to lie on a sofa for her session, recalls Dash.
“She is an amazing person,” Dash says. “I’ve been teaching for 50 years and I’ve never seen anyone be able to stay so consistently focused on improving the voice in the midst of her body experiencing so much pain.”
It is a voice that finally put an end to the bullying. During junior year, Livvie performed a jaw-dropping rendition of “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio at a school cabaret night.
“After that, people would say, ‘Livvie, you were amazing at the cabaret’ and it was really weird,” she says. “I was kind of uncomfortable with people who were bullying me my whole life all of a sudden being like, ‘You have talent, you are amazing.’ ”
For Nancy, who had worked years with school administrators to stop the bullying, its end was a big relief.
“Teachers told me Livvie started coming out of the shadows,” she says. “Those teachers were the heroes. We said to Livvie, ‘If we can send you to another school we’ll do it’ and she said ‘No, I’ve never had a bad teacher.’ They loved her and nurtured her.”
In 2014, Michael, Livvie’s father, encouraged Livvie to record a demo tape. Michael gave the CD to his pal David Uosikkinen, whom he’d met three years prior when The Hooters drummer came to him for a legal consultation. Uosikkinen put it in a pile of the many other demo CDs he receives, and forgot about it it for several months.
One day, while driving, Uosikkinen decided to give it a listen.
“I nearly drove off the road, it was her voice, it’s such a powerful voice, an Adele kind of thing,” he tells PEOPLE. “I was looking at the CD and thinking, ‘Did I put the right CD in?'”
Uosikkinen shared Livvie’s demo with Hooters bandmate Eric Bazilian and others, and decided to produce as well as play on an album with Livvie and other accomplished Philadelphia-area musicians.
“The whole process was awesome,” Livvie says. “It made me feel like a professional.”
The album was released in April, and her single Small has received airtime at stations across the country. Uosikkinen, who works with several young artists, says: “She’s gotten up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park.”
This past February, Livvie’s performance with Bazilian’s Cavalcade of Stars at the Sellersville Theater earned her a rousing ovation, and she continues to perform at open mic nights.
“I’ve noticed that the performing makes her a stronger person and there is a joy that wasn’t there before,” says Dash. “And the recognition that people are loving her voice and loving her performing has lifted her up, it’s just beautiful.”
Since graduating high school in June, Livvie says she’s “seeing where this takes me. I’m excited, I think a lot of awesome things are going to happen. It can only go up.”