He Killed My Sister
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 routines.

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."

Sheila E.

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 been blessed."

Reprinted by permission, Dunamis Life.