Pluginin R&B Hall Of Fame: Drummer Sheila E.

Guided by the forces of family, faith, and music, Sheila E. has made a name for herself as one of the most talented musical icons over the decades. With a fearless nature and a passion for sharing her gifts with others, Sheila truly follows the beat of her own drum. She touches the lives of so many, with her dynamic music career at the heart of everything. Sheila’s eagerness to share her music, openness as an author, and fire for her ministry make her such a relatable, inspirational figure for people of all ages.

Commonly referred to as The Queen of Percussion, Sheila E., is an American percussionist, singer, author, and actress. She began her career in the mid-1970s as a percussionist and singer for The George Duke Band. After leaving the group in 1983, Sheila began a successful solo career, starting with her critically acclaimed debut album, which included the career-defining song, “The Glamorous Life”. She became a mainstream solo star in 1985 following the success of the singles, “The Belle of St. Mark”, “Sister Fate”, and “A Love Bizarre” with the last becoming one of her signature songs.

Sheila made her recording debut with jazz bassist Alphonso Johnson on “Yesterday’s Dream” in 1976. By her early 20s, she had already played with George Duke, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Herbie Hancock, and Diana Ross. In 1977, she joined The George Duke Band. She appeared on several of Duke’s albums including: “Don’t Let Go” (1978)”, “Follow the Rainbow” (1979), “Master of the Game” (1979), “A Brazilian Love Affair” (1980). Along with appearing on Duke’s “Don’t Let Go” in 1978, Escovedo and her father released “Happy Together” that year on Fantasy Records, sharing billing as Pete and Sheila Escovedo. In 1983, she joined Marvin Gaye’s final tour Midnight Love Tour as one of his percussionists.

Solo Career

In 1984, Sheila E. released her debut album The Glamorous Life. The album’s title-track single “The Glamorous Life” peaked at number 7 the Hot 100 and also topped the dance charts for two weeks in August 1984. The video for the song would bring three MTV Award nominations for Best Female Video, Best New Artist, and Best Choreography. She also received two Grammy Award nominations for Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Performance Female. Her second single “The Belle of St. Mark” charted at number 34 on Billboard Hot 100 and later became NME’s “Single of the Week”. She also toured as the opening act for Prince’s Purple Rain Tour.

Romance 1600 is released in 1985. The lead single “Sister Fate” peaked at number 36 on the R&B charts. Prince contributed some backing vocals, guitar and bass guitar, and co-wrote/co-produced “A Love Bizarre“, a 12-minute epic that became a major hit in its edited radio-friendly form and her signature song, peaking at number 11 the Hot 100 and also topped the dance charts.

Sheila E. next single “Holly Rock” made its way into the film Krush Groove. “Holly Rock” song written and produced by Prince and performed by Sheila E. who also received the writing and production credits. The song appeared on the soundtrack of the 1985 film Krush Groove, with Sheila E. also performing the song in the film. It is a high-energy rap number with Sheila E. rapping throughout most of the song. The song did not chart, but it became a fan favorite.

In July 1986, her self-titled album Sheila E. was released. The ballad single “Hold Me” peaked at number 3 on R&B charts.  The album is notable for its Latin influence and prominent presence in this hybrid of jazz, rock, funk and salsa. The video for “Koo Koo” shows Sheila dancing with Cat Glover.

After leaving the Prince organization in 1989, Sheila E. collaborated with writers like Demetrius Ross, recorded and released an album, Sex Cymbal in 1991. The album spawned singles: “Sex Cymbal”, “Dropping Like Flies“, and “Cry Baby“. She began her tour in Japan which only lasted for a brief time. Shortly after returning to America, she developed severe health issues after her lung collapsed. She was left semi-paralyzed from playing drums in heels for long periods of time over the course of many years Unable to promote and tour, her album Sex Cymbal suffered low sales.

In 2000 Sheila‘s Concord Records debut, Writes of Passage — her first effort as a leader in nine years — combines funk-inflected smooth jazz, 1970s-influenced fusion, gospel, and, as is her family tradition, an exciting Latin influence. She takes a lead vocal on only one song, the gentle and inspirational “N Perfect Time,” and only lets loose a few times on percussion solos (most notably at the end of the easy-swaying exotica of “Rituals,” featuring Ray Obiedo‘s rolling guitar lines and Eric Leeds‘ mix of punchy sax improv and sassy flute).

Sheila E. has performed three stints as one of the member “All-Starrs” of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, in 2001, 2003, and 2006. Her drum “duets” with Starr are a moment of comic relief in the show, where they play the same parts but he quickly falls behind, shrugs and smiles as she takes off on an extended percussion solo.

In 200, the highly talented musician has followed up with Heaven. Created with a little help from her friends, including George Duke, Gerald Albright, and many more, Sheila E. adds her vocal, percussion, drum, producing, composing, and arranging skills and other cool tools to yet another jazz style. She’s cool, yet beautifully orchestrated, but most of all, she has opened her musical treasure trove and delivered some new grooves, R&B-inflected vocals, smooth gospel, and funky jazz.

In 2013, Sheila began recording her seventh album. In November 2013, she released her album Icon. The album was also Sheila’s first release of her own recording label Stilettoflats Music. There are conga drum masterclasses, smoochy R&B, 1980s-type pop rock, sugary ballads, Latin grooves (salsa godfather Tito Puente was literally her godfather) and, of course, the sort of elongated bump’n’grinds familiar to fans of Prince Rogers Nelson. 

In September 2014, she released her autobiography Beat of my Own Drum.

In 2017 Sheila E. released Iconic Message 4 America features collaborations with Ringo Starr, Freddy Stone, George Clinton and many others. One of life’s constants for Sheila E. comes down to a simple phrase: follow the beat. And her impeccable inner rhythm is the pulse behind a trailblazing career that still knows no bounds.

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