by Dawn Foreman
Sheila E. will be the first to tell you that all things happen for a
reason. The incredibly gifted percussionist and singer has been blessing
people for 27 years with her craft and says the high points and low points
she?s faced were all part of God?s plan.
"The person I am now, I wouldn?t be if I weren?t the person I
was then," she says, reflecting on a life that has sometimes been
tumultuous. "The high point of my life has been giving my heart to
the Lord. How I thought I could get by without Him, I don?t know."
Sheila E., born Sheila Escovedo to parents Pete and Juanita, grew up in
the Bay Area and was surrounded by music. Her father, well-known leader of
the Latin-jazz band Azteca, was heavily involved in the music industry,
and Sheila says she learned by osmosis. "I was listening to my dad
playing every day. Percussion at my house was like the furniture,"
she says. She was exposed to all types of music?Latin, jazz, big band,
sals, Motown, and more. At age 15, the self-taught Sheila performed for
the first time as drummer for her father?s group. After that fateful
evening, she realized "God had touched me?this was a gift."
The whole family loved music, and Sheila?s two brothers and one sister
also played instruments.
From that point on, she knew she belonged in music, so Sheila pursued a
career in the industry. This wasn?t an easy task for a "woman
playing a so-called male instrument," she recalls. Surrounded
predominantly by men, she was assumed to be ?easy? and dealt with
great scrutiny from peers. "It was like, why do people have to be so
mean?" she asks. During this time of turmoil, around 1980, Sheila
confided in a friend, who then witnessed to her about Jesus. "I gave
my heart to the Lord and felt so much better," Sheila says. Walking
the walk was difficult, though. "A lot of Christians I knew were
doing things I wouldn?t do even if I weren?t a Christian," Sheila
says. "It messed me up for a long time."
During that time she worked with greats like Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross,
and George Duke. But it wasn?t until 1982 when a young musician named
Prince ?discovered her? that Sheila E. became a household name.
"He asked me to sing with Erotic City. For me, playing with
people like Marvin Gaye and Lionel Richie in L.A., they made sure your
sound was very clean. With Prince, there were no rules?it wasn?t about
cleaning it up," Sheila says. In 1984 Erotic City was a huge
hit, and Prince produced Sheila?s solo debut album, The Glamorous
Life, that same year. The title song became a Top 10 hit. He later
went on to receive success with record sales on his Purple Rain
album, and Sheila E. was along for the ride.
"The highlight was playing in the studio?that was so much fun.
On the tour, we?d try to out-dress each other. The wardrobe team was
double tired!" Sheila says. But the celebrity life had its downfalls
too, as she soon learned.
"I couldn?t go anywhere and that was very strange," she
says, due to the band?s popularity and her featured on stage
performances. "You see girls dress like you and act like you and cry
when they see you. They went through my garbage and tried to get
souvenirs," she remembers. "During the Purple Rain tour,
the routine I thought of and was doing and how I was dressing started to
make me feel naked," Sheila admits. At that time Prince and the band
were known for their outrageous attire, suggestive lyrics and on-stage
The glamorous life was taking a toll on Sheila, so she left the group
in 1989. Her defining moment came in 1991 when she became gravely ill,
even needing to be spoon-fed. "Everything came down in ?90-?91. I
couldn?t walk for two weeks?my disc went out," she says. "I
turned myself around in that time. I kept a Bible in my hand. I slept with
it and I read. I finally had enough strength to go outside?I didn?t
have time to do that when I was with Prince," she admits. "I
kissed the ground and cried and realized how beautiful the grass and trees
are and all the things God?s given us."
Since her rededication to the Lord, Sheila has made great strides to
change. "I learned patience first," she says. "That was
hard for me. I used to order people around?that?s gone. Every time I
hear a story about something I did before, I?m calling people and
apologizing. I?m not that person anymore. That?s very humbling, and
the person receiving the call is shocked, but it?s a blessing to
them," she says.
Others notice the new Sheila too. "An engineer I work with laughs
and makes fun of me," Sheila says. "He says ?you don?t get
mad anymore?you?re no fun!? so people notice."
As for her relationship with Prince (or the artist formerly known as
Prince, as he?s known these days), Sheila admits they were "more
than friends," but they have no connection anymore. "Actually he
called the other day," she mentions, interested in working with her
on a music project. But she turned down the offer. "He hasn?t
changed. I still love him and I?ll keep praying for him," Sheila
says, but for now she?s better off with him out of her life.
Today Sheila is still very busy musically, and hopes to be used of the
Lord more. "Soon I?ll be ministering to kids who have been abused
and molested," she says, revealing that she was a victim of
molestation off and on from age five until age ten. "I felt my
childhood was taken away from me," she remembers. "My parents?it
was hard for them?no one really believed me. It took me a long time to
talk about it because it made me so angry," she says. Sheila has a
heart for all young people, and knows it?s not easy being a kid today.
"Everything?s changed?not just the music, but the whole
environment. You couldn?t pay me to be a teenager today," she
notes. Her once skimpy and suggestive on-stage attire are the norm these
days. "To kids today, I look like Mrs. Rogers!" she laughs.
Advice for today?s youth? Sheila says to "be positive and try to
do something good and think about how you?ve made a difference in the
world." She?s been making efforts in that department herself,
devoting herself to numerous charities and trying to start an organization
to influence schools to offer music programs.
Sheila is active at Bible Enrichment Fellowship International Church in
Inglewood, California and hopes someday to be married and have a family.
"I?m still waiting?I can?t have kids until God gives me a
husband," she laughs.
"I continue to give," Sheila says. "God gets the glory
first. It?s not that I?m perfect. It?s a challenge every day, but I?ve
Reprinted by permission, Dunamis Life.