California native and percussion legend Sheila E. was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on July 12th, making history as the first female solo percussionist to receive the honor.
“Sheila E. is a powerhouse in the music industry. She has had quite an iconic career and has performed with the best!” said Ana Martinez, producer of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“The Glamorous Life” singer grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area surrounded by music.
Her father was a percussionist, and she counts Santana founder Coke Escovedo and Latin star Tito Puente among her extended family.
“I used to sit on the corner outside of the local community center with Twinkies and 7-Up listening to Sly and Larry Graham rehearse,” Sheila E. recalls. “The sounds of the Bay Area molded me.”
In addition to recording her own music, Sheila E. also worked as musical director for Prince and has collaborated with countless musicians over the decades.
Born in Oakland, Sheila Escovedo grew up surrounded by music — her father, percussionist Pete Escovedo, would bring his band and friends like Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri to their house to rehearse, and her uncles played in a range of groups from punk bands to Santana. Music in the Bay Area was thriving. “Growing up around the environment of Carlos Santana and Sly Stone and the Pointer Sisters, Tower of Power, Grateful Dead — we were inspired by all of those musicians,” she says.
Sheila studied music as a child (her father wanted her to play the violin), but it wasn’t her real focus. She ran track and played soccer— “I loved music,” she says, “but my goal was to win a gold medal in the Olympics.”
But those plans were disrupted when she was 15 and played her first show with her father. “That changed my whole life,” she says. “I dropped everything. I knew then that this is what I was supposed to do, to play music and be a percussion player and entertainer.”
Soon Sheila was working with such giants as Herbie Hancock and Diana Ross (“I was having so much fun, I didn’t want to get paid”), and in 1977, she joined fusion keyboardist George Duke’s band. In 1983, she played percussion on what turned out to be Marvin Gaye’s final tour.
During her time with George Duke, Sheila met a young musician named Prince who was in the Bay Area recording his debut album. He told her he had seen her with George Duke on “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” and “The Midnight Special.” They exchanged numbers, she recalls, “and the very next day, that was the beginning of a lifetime of memories.”
By the time she was touring with Lionel Richie, Prince had become an arena headliner, and they decided it was time for Sheila to do a solo project — which, she emphasizes, was a mutual idea.
“Everyone thinks that he created that solo role for me, but he didn’t,” she says. “Every time I played in a situation with other artists, they always featured me. So I was used to being up front doing things.” They “stayed up for three days straight and recorded nonstop,” Sheila says, and “The Glamorous Life” album came out in June 1984 — the same month that “Purple Rain” was released.
Prince took her on tour as his opening act and they duetted on “Erotic City.” Very quickly, Sheila E. became a star on her own, with multiple Grammy and MTV Awards nominations. Two more albums soon followed, but by 1987, she was hitting a wall.
“I was just exhausted,” she says. “The pressure of trying to do all that needed to be done all the time and taking care of everyone — it was scary at times, it was really crazy. So at the height of my career, I said, ‘I’m done for a while.’”
She told Prince that she just felt like playing the drums again, and he replied that they should start a band together. Combining some members of each of their teams, they created the group that would be documented on the concert film “Sign ‘o’ the Times” — probably the definitive official document of Prince’s onstage magic.
“I was so excited, because that’s what I wanted to do, to play drums in a rock ‘n’ roll band,” she says. “We created a drum set with triggers on all the drums. It was incredible what they built for me, it was crazy, and I played it in heels!”
Sheila and Prince were even briefly engaged in the late 1980s, and she would continue her association with him for the rest of his life.
She still performs his music at every show, though she says that after he died in 2016, “at the beginning, it was hard to do anything, because I was just too emotional. Now, seven years later, I’m able to get through it — I just do my own celebrating in my own way.”
It’s been a long, wild ride for the woman known as “the Queen of Percussion.” In addition to her hits such as “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre,” and her long affiliation with Prince, there were her early days touring with such legends as Marvin Gaye and Lionel Richie; her collaborations with a range of superstars including Beyoncé, Phil Collins and Gloria Estefan; her extensive work in film and TV and a five-year run with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band.
Joining her for the induction ceremony will be singer/songwriter Jimmy Jam Harris, H.E.R. and fellow Walk of Famer and Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.
Sheila E.’s star is located at 6752 Hollywood Blvd. in front of the Musician’s Institute.