E., Sheila: 1957—: Percussionist, Singer, Composer, Producer
Sheila E.: 1957—: Percussionist, singer, composer, producer
Percussionist, singer, composer, and producer Sheila E. broke out onto the pop music scene in the 1980s, fueled by her singing debut with pop superstar Prince on his "Erotic City" single. She immediately proved she had the mettle to make it on her own, though, and had two hit albums, Sheila E. in The Glamorous Life and Sheila E. in Romance 1600. Percussion is in her blood, and Sheila E. continues to record and tour with her famous percussionist father, Pete Escovedo, and her own five-piece band, the E-Train.
Sheila E. was born Sheila Cecilia Escovedo on December 12, 1957, in Oakland, California. She is the first born of Latin jazz percussionist Pete, who is Mexican-American, and Juanita Escovedo, who is Creole, meaning part French and part black. She has two brothers, Juan and Peter Michael, and one sister, Zina. Pete Escovedo's band, Azteca, eventually became internationally renown and there was always a constant stream of top musicians playing and coming through the house. Records by Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, and Dizzy Gillispie were played in the family living room. "I grew up listening to all types of music," she is quoted as saying on the Concord Records website. "We listened to a great deal of Latin jazz in our home, but I was also really inspired by Motown music." At three years old—and just two feet tall—Sheila stretched up to reach the conga drums, banging on them, mimicking her father.
When Sheila was young, before Azteca became successful, money was tight in the Escovedo household. They lived in a tough neighborhood on Oakland's east side. Her mother worked at dairy factories at night, and her father dragged Sheila with him to his club appearances. When her siblings were born, money became tighter still. Sheila was heartbroken when she could not join the local Girl Scout troop because her family could not afford to buy the uniform. In an area rampant with gang tension, she ended up joining a gang instead, to ensure people would not bother her. For her gang initiation, she had to hit her friend in the face. In her biography, Sheila E., she recalled the other kids watching and saying "'Wow, you're as crazy as us.' They never touched me again," she continued. "I had to apologize to my friend. I was lucky she forgave me." To stay afloat in junior high, she took to carrying knives and acting tougher still. She credits her eventual running away from gangs in her childhood to her abilities as a runner. She excelled in track, winning awards and breaking records in the 50-yard dash and 220 and 440 relays.
At a Glance . . .
Born Sheila Cecilia Escovedo on December 12, 1957, in Oakland CA; daughter of Pete (a percussionist) and Juanita (Gardere) Escovedo (a dairy-factory worker).
Career: Percussionist 1972–. Azteca, tour drummer, 1972; George Duke Band, tour drummer, 1975; singer, 1984–; movie actor, 1985; The Magic Hour, band director, 1997; Heaven Productions Music, co-founder and co-owner, 1999.
Address: Office— Heaven Productions Music, 11288 Ventura Blvd, Ste. 751, Studio City, CA 91604.
Divided by Race and Class
In junior high school, Sheila learned about class and racial prejudice. Her school system started busing students like her from disadvantaged neighborhoods to better schools in more upscale parts of town. She ended up going to school in ritzy Oakland Hills, where the resident students did not know what to make of kids from her side of town. Socially, the students split into groups decided by race and class—black or white, rich or poor. Though she was definitely poor, her mixed background made it difficult for her to truly fit in with one group.
Pete Escovedo absolutely discouraged his children from pursuing musical careers. When Sheila expressed an interest in following in his footsteps and playing percussion, he forced her to learn to play violin, instead. He saw that she had talent, but thought classical music would be more secure than popular music for his daughter. After serious campaigning by Sheila and her mother, though, her father finally relented, and even let her play percussion with his band. Her first appearance with Azteca was before an audience of 3,000 people. "When it actually happened I could not believe her intensity," Pete Escovedo is quoted as saying in Sheila E. "She had it in her eyes. When we looked at each other, it was like we had died and gone to heaven." He made her a part of Azteca, and Sheila quit high school to tour South America with the band.
At age 18, Sheila joined and toured with the George Duke Band and, in 1978, she first met a young artist known as Prince. The young percussionist gained a reputation in the music industry, and played and recorded with such artists as Al Jarreau, Diana Ross, Jeffrey Osborne, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Nicks, and Marvin Gaye, among others. While out on tour with Lionel Richie in 1983, she met with Prince again, who was working on his film, Purple Rain.
Stepped Up To The Mike
After much coaxing, Prince convinced Sheila to sing on his song "Erotic City," which was the B-side to his number-one hit single, "Lets's Go Crazy." The song itself was a popular hit, and gave her the confidence to record her own crossover record. Prince helped her secure a record contract with Warner Bros., and in 1984 she released Sheila E. in The Glamorous Life.
A self-admitted workaholic and perfectionist, Sheila relentlessly toured and worked publicity to support her debut album. She toured Europe and the United States, and her first single, "The Glamorous Life," reached the top ten on the American charts. The album's second single, "The Belle of St. Mark," reached both the American and British Top 40. She then joined Prince on his sold-out 1985 Purple Rain tour, starred in her first film, Krush Groove, and recorded her follow-up album, Sheila E. in Romance 1600, all in rapid succession. Her second album produced one hit, "A Love Bizarre." In 1986 she continued her relentless schedule, touring again with Lionel Richie and recording her third album, Sheila E. She then rejoined Prince for his 1987 Sign O' the Times tour. Sheila E. did not have the commercial success of her first two albums.
In 1990 the percussionist's grueling schedule got the best of her. Her back went out and she visited a string of doctors and acupuncturists who tried to diagnose her and get her back on her feet. "I got really sick," she is quoted as saying in Sheila E. "It was at this time I thought I had to change my life. I realized it is important to sleep, take a break, and sit down and eat a regular meal." She ceased touring in support of other artists, and took time to play a show with her father and Tito Puente, which was recorded and released in 1989 as Latina Familia.
Learned to Take It Easy with E-Train
Sheila E.'s fourth album, Sex Cymbal, was released in 1991, but failed to reach the charts. She did a lot of session work during this time, and performed at the 1993 Academy Awards with Plácido Domingo. In 1994, she started her own five-piece band, called E-Train. According to critic Fernando Gonzalez of Down Beat, the group's first record, Writes Of Passage, released in 1998, "offers some impeccable funk with tight-in-the-pocket grooves, a nod to Brazilian music, a touch of gospel, a mid-tempo ballad, and even a 'smooth jazz' radio-ready ballad." The E-Train album Heaven followed in 2001. She also went out on tour with former Beatle Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band. She and brother Peter Michael appeared on their father's 2000 release, E-Music.
In 1997 Sheila E. became the first female band director in television history as leader of the house band for the short-lived television talk show, The Magic Hour, hosted by former basketball star Magic Johnson. In 1999 she opened a recording studio in her Woodland Hills, California home. She has parlayed her celebrity into children's charities, including the Li'l Angel Bunny Foundation for abused or abandoned children. She has also designed a line of percussion instruments for children.
Sheila E. in The Glamorous Life, Warner Bros., 1984.
Sheila E. in Romance 1600, Paisley Park, 1985.
Sheila E, Paisley Park, 1987.
Latina Familia (with Pete Escovedo and Tito Puente), Jazzvisions/Verve, 1989.
Sex Cymbal, Warner Bros., 1991.
Writes Of Passage (Sheila E and E-Train), Concord Jazz, 1998.
Heaven (Sheila E. And the E-Train), Concord Jazz, 2001.
Billboard, January 12, 2002, p. 102.
Down Beat, February 2001, p. 72.
Hispanic, December 2000, p. 66.
Mix Online, www.mixonline.com (February 5, 2003).
"Sheila E.," All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com (February 5, 2003).
"Sheila E. and The E Train - Biography," Concord Records, www.concordrecords.com/bios/sheilaebio.html (February 5, 2003).
"Sheila E. Biography," Ringo Tour 2001, www.ringotour.com/2001/2001sheila_bio.htm (February 5, 2003).
"Sheila E. Homepage," www.sheilae.com (February 5, 2003).
"E., Sheila: 1957—: Percussionist, Singer, Composer, Producer." Contemporary Hispanic Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.
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