There was never any doubt that this week’s “Unsung” musician would eventually be one of the most popular percussionists in show business.
Sheila Escovedos was born into Oakland, California’s first musical family. Her father, Peter, and her two brothers all played Latin music on their own and for bands of other famous musicians like Santana and Sly and the Family Stone.
All Sheila ever wanted to do was to play drums with her family but her parents thought that she might be better off learning the violin. Her dad thought that she might have more success in the music industry with that instrument but all her friends teased her for carrying it around. The violin was not the instrument for her.
One day the conga player in her father’s band, Azeteca, got sick and against her dad’s better instinct, 15-year-old Sheila took the sick musician’s place. She was an immediate hit. With her mom’s okay Sheila went on the road with her father and recorded two albums with him.
Sheila eventually met George Drake who promised her father that she would be taken care of as she ended up touring with Drake.
Then, while touring with Drake in 1978 Sheila met Prince. She introduced herself to him and Prince said he knew who she was because he’d been following her career.
The two started jamming together and Prince got her to sing as she played the drums. George Duke had said that if Sheila could sing she would rule the world. It looked like Sheila was now the ruler.
Prince asked Sheila to record with him. They worked well together and started dating so no one was surprised when the two fell in love. Sheila soon changed her name to Sheila E.
Meanwhile, her father, Peter, was very unhappy about the direction Sheila’s life was taking. But this is what she wanted to do so he just hoped for the best.
Sheila joined Prince on the Purple Rain tour. Her brother was also in the band. Sheila dressed and acted very sexy on stage as she played. Her brother wasn’t happy about watching his sister do this but this is what Sheila wanted.
Prince asked her if she was happy and she was. Why wouldn’t she be happy? She was a recognized popular drummer, a good singer, and was making a lot of money. Sheila was living her dream.
Her first big hit was “The Glamorous Life” and it zoomed to the top of practically every chart and received a Grammy nomination. Sheila E. was an icon for women all over who wanted to “do it all.”
The drummer/musician had everything she wanted but it also made her into what she now calls, “a monster.”
Sheila started yelling at people, expecting everything to go her way, and for everyone around her to do whatever she wanted. She was a terror to be around. To this day Sheila is still apologizing to people because of the way she treated them.
Throughout the early ’80s through the mid ’80s Sheila and Prince were inseparable. They sang together, toured together, recorded together, and spent their personal lives together and then things started to bother Sheila.
Her career was taking a bit of a turn. The reviews of her shows weren’t about her music any longer but more about what clothes she was not wearing. Sheila told Prince that she wasn’t happy and needed a break from not only her music but from him too. The long-time couple broke up.
By the time the 1990s came around Sheila was worn down and wasn’t feeling well. She had a pain in her neck and was diagnosed with having a pinched nerve in her shoulder. She was given acupuncture to help with the pain but something went wrong. One of the needles punctured her lung and the singer ended up in the hospital. Eighty percent of her left lung had collapsed.
But this was just the beginning of bad luck for this unsung celebrity. Her back went out, her legs didn’t work anymore, she couldn’t eat, and the singer found herself paralyzed.
Her back and body were badly twisted from standing up and playing the drums in her high heels. It took four months of physical therapy to get her back up and walking. She also found spiritual awareness during this time.
Sheila changed her musical priorities. She didn’t want to play pop music any more so she created her own band, E Train, and this five-piece group played jazz.
In the early 2000s she played with other groups including Ringo Starr’s. Sheila also rekindled her relationship with Prince. They still love each other but they’re going to just stay friends, nothing more.
When 2011 rolled around Sheila recorded an album with her dad and brothers called, “Now and Forever.” The family also performs together on stage.
But there’s much more than music for Sheila E. In 2001 she co-created a foundation to help children who have problems. Sheila was raped when she was 5 years old and wished that she had some place where she could have gone that would have helped her.
She always wanted to get married and have her own children and she’s still looking for the right guy. Her father said that music has been her husband but she needs a physical husband and he wants to walk down the aisle with her one day.
The unsung singer is now more grounded in her life and very happy with the way things have turned out.