Sheila E(scovedo) , hereditary percussionist who became a big star as a singer; b. Oakland, Calif., Dec. 12 1957. The oldest child of former Santana percussionist Pete Escovedo, Sheila E comes from a musical dynasty. In addition to her father, her uncle Coke Escovedo also worked with Santana and a host of others, including the “family band” Azteca. Her brother was in the band Con Funk Shun. Her uncle Alejandro has half a dozen solo albums in addition to his punk rock days with the Nuns and True Believers.
Although Sheila began performing on percussion with the family group Azteca at the age of five, during her teens she wanted to be an Olympic athlete. She broke many track records at Oakland H.S., but found the lure of the stage too great. At her father’s suggestion, she studied violin for several years, but had a natural penchant for percussion. During the 1970s, she cut two albums with her father for Fantasy as Pete and Sheila (both were reissued in 1999). During the latter part of the decade, she became an in-demand percussionist, touring with George Duke, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, and others.
In 1984 Sheila got sucked into Prince’s Minneapolis funk Mafia, first appearing on Prince’s “Erotic City,” the B-side of the chart topper “Let’s Go Crazy,” as a vocalist. Later that same year, she released her solo debut, The Glamorous Life. Based on the same sounds and rhythms that made her mentor so famous, she landed a #7 single with the title track and followed that with the #34 “The Belle of St. Mark.” The album hit #28 and went gold. Her 1985 album Romance 1600 benefitted from the single “A Love Bizarre,” which appeared in the film Krustt Groove. The song went to #11 and catapulted the album to gold.
After leaving Prince behind, her records have leaned more heavily on her percussive abilities. She may have found them more artistically satisfying, particularly 1989’s Latina Familia set, an all-star Latin percussion workout for Verve/CTI, but they didn’t sell nearly as well. In the early 1990s, Sheila went on tour with Prince, playing trap drums for the first time. She also can play trombone, bass, piano, trumpet and saxophone. In the late 1990s, she became the first female bandleader on a late night talk show, playing the tunes for Magic Johnson’s short-lived program. She has appeared playing drums in a soft-drink commercial and continues to be an in-demand session player.
The Glamorous Life (1984); Romance 1600 (1985); Sheila E (1987); Sex Cymbal (1991); Writes of Passage (1998). Pete Escovedo and Tito Puente: Latina Familia (1989).