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Sheila E.: 1957—: Percussionist, Singer, Composer, Producer Biography

Divided By Race And Class, Stepped Up To The Mike, Learned To Take It Easy With E-train

Sheila E.: 1957—: Percussionist, singer, composer, producer.

Percussionist, singer, composer, and producer Sheila E. broke out onto the pop music scene in the 1980s, fueled by her singing debut with pop superstar Prince on his "Erotic City" single. She immediately proved she had the mettle to make it on her own, though, and had two hit albums, Sheila E. in The Glamorous Life and Sheila E. in Romance 1600. Percussion is in her blood, and Sheila E. continues to record and tour with her famous percussionist father, Pete Escovedo, and her own five-piece band, the E-Train.

Sheila E. was born Sheila Cecilia Escovedo on December 12, 1957, in Oakland, California. She is the first born of Latin jazz percussionist Pete, who is Mexican-American, and Juanita Escovedo, who is Creole, meaning part French and part black. She has two brothers, Juan and Peter Michael, and one sister, Zina. Pete Escovedo's band, Azteca, eventually became internationally renown and there was always a constant stream of top musicians playing and coming through the house. Records by Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, and Dizzy Gillispie were played in the family living room. "I grew up listening to all types of music," she is quoted as saying on the Concord Records website. "We listened to a great deal of Latin jazz in our home, but I was also really inspired by Motown music." At three years old—and just two feet tall—Sheila stretched up to reach the conga drums, banging on them, mimicking her father.

When Sheila was young, before Azteca became successful, money was tight in the Escovedo household. They lived in a tough neighborhood on Oakland's east side. Her mother worked at dairy factories at night, and her father dragged Sheila with him to his club appearances. When her siblings were born, money became tighter still. Sheila was heartbroken when she could not join the local Girl Scout troop because her family could not afford to buy the uniform. In an area rampant with gang tension, she ended up joining a gang instead, to ensure people would not bother her. For her gang initiation, she had to hit her friend in the face. In her biography, Sheila E., she recalled the other kids watching and saying "'Wow, you're as crazy as us.' They never touched me again," she continued. "I had to apologize to my friend. I was lucky she forgave me." To stay afloat in junior high, she took to carrying knives and acting tougher still. She credits her eventual running away from gangs in her childhood to her abilities as a runner. She excelled in track, winning awards and breaking records in the 50-yard dash and 220 and 440 relays.

At a Glance . . .

Born Sheila Cecilia Escovedo on December 12, 1957, in Oakland CA; daughter of Pete (a percussionist) and Juanita (Gardere) Escovedo (a dairy-factory worker).

Career: Percussionist 1972–. Azteca, tour drummer, 1972; George Duke Band, tour drummer, 1975; singer, 1984–; movie actor, 1985; The Magic Hour, band director, 1997; Heaven Productions Music, co-founder and co-owner, 1999.

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