At 13 as a less than mediocre drummer in my school’s band no one could tell me I wasn’t on my way to being the next Sheila E, that is until I realized I lacked one major thing…talent. While I may have been a less than disciplined percussionist with little natural talent who cared more about looking good than practicing, reason #25 I gave up band to be a cheerleader, my admiration for one of the best musicians to ever pick up a set of sticks, man or woman.
Born in California into a family boasting as many musicians as the Jacksons, Sheila Escovedo went into the family business from birth. By her early 20s she’d already played with Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and Lionel Richie, who incidentally would go on to adopt her biological niece Nicole. While Sheila was well on her way to establishing herself a percussionist to be reckoned with, it wasn’t until she joined forces with Prince on his Purple Rain recordings that Sheila E proved to be a successful artist in her own right. After providing vocals to the B-side of “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Erotic City,” Sheila E scored her first hits in 1984 with “The Glamorous Life” and “The Belle of St. Mark.” She then went on to open for Prince on the Purple Rain tour and score another hit with her track “A Love Bizarre” all while serving as a writer and musician for Prince and several of his proteges. After three albums and a string of successful singles Sheila E left the Paisley Park crew and recorded three more albums, which garnered little attention, however her career was far from over. Sheila continued to work, performing with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, showing up on Beyonce’s “Work It Out”, performing with Cyndi Lauper during VH1Divas, and reuniting with Prince at Coachella in 2008.
Unlike most women in male dominated areas Sheila E did not try to prove her worth my blending in and dressing like one of the guys, she took her style seriously and let her playing speak for itself. Under Prince’s wing Sheila went on to epitomize over the top 80s style, borrowing a page from his book with big hair, lots of ruffles, lace, and barely there…well everything. Much like Prince’s other 80s acts, Vanity 6 and Apollonia 6, Sheila’s stage persona was over the top, and oozed a certain amount of dangerous sex appeal, a look that has been channeled by every good girl gone bad since I was still wearing Osh Kosh. Once the 80s came to an end, so did Sheila’s sex shooter image, which coincided with her leaving Prince’s fold. While the bustiers, slingshot leotards, and thigh high boots are off gathering dust somewhere in one of her closets, Sheila E still keeps it fly and flirty in draped dresses and heels when she takes the stage.
Whether you love her for her style or her music, no one will argue that this stone cold fox is an icon for the history books.
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