In April 1985, Prince played the finale of his iconic Purple Rain tour at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The glamorous Sheila E. was by his side. After the show, Prince suggested they start their next musical phase with a new look: short hair.
“I went to his room, and when he opened the door, I saw he cut only a little bit of his hair, and I chopped my hair off to my neck,” she says of clipping her long, luscious locks that night in her Miami hotel room.
Although it was his idea, Prince seemed surprised. “He said, ‘You really cut your hair?” and I said, ‘You said, “Let’s change our look and cut our hair!”’” she says, laughing. “That was crazy. It was kind of like the Amadeus look.”
But the idea turned out to be a good one. Her short coif became a funky trend for the latter part of the ’80s.
Sheila E., whose given name is Sheila Escovedo, may be well known for her beauty, but it is raw talent that has cemented her place in the annals of music history for almost 35 years.
With Prince, Escovedo pumped out hit after hit, including “Glamorous Life,” “A Love Bizarre,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and “Erotic City.”
“I wasn’t expecting to sing,” she says of the recording session with Prince for “Erotic City.” “He called me in the studio, and I thought I was playing percussion or drums, and he said he wanted me to sing a duet with him.”
Prince saw something special in Escovedo, who went on to become a Grammy-nominated singer in addition to being an iconic percussionist in a field dominated by men.
Escovedo is still singing and playing drums today, and she will join the Jacksons, the Sugarhill Gang, Baha Men, and Lisa Lisa for the first night of the three-day Riptide Music Festival on Fort Lauderdale Beach November 30 through December 2.
Expect to hear hits from her solo career as well as her time with the Purple One, to whom she was once engaged. “We both decided not to get married,” she says of the breakup. “It wasn’t going to work out.”
Escovedo is tight-lipped about her split with Prince but has said she was still pained from her breakup with Carlos Santana, to whom she was also engaged and calls her “first love.”
But what she did not know when she fell for Santana was that he was already married. “It came about because my dad and my uncle started playing with him in the early ’70s, so I knew him for a while,” she explains.
Regardless of past romances, Escovedo is confident and successful in her own right. She’s quick to respond to a question about what her life might be like if she had never met Prince. “I think it would be the same question to him,” she says. “How would his life be different if he never would have met me?”
But she acknowledges that before she met Prince, her aspirations were very different. “I was breaking records in junior high and high school in track and field,” she says of her early desire to become a professional athlete. “I played soccer on an undefeated women’s league for five years.”
But music was in her blood and eventually won out. Her father was also a drummer, and Escovedo played her first live show with him in front of 3,000 people when she was only 5.
That was around the same time she was first sexually assaulted.
“Most of the time in being abused, you shut down,” Escovedo says. “There is no communication, you’re angry all the time, and you walk around with all these issues.”
Through music, she was able to heal her wounds. She started the Elevate Hope Foundation to provide creative outlets for others who have experienced abuse.
“We wanted them to talk, speak, write, make pictures and drawings, make photographs about how they felt at that particular time,” Escovedo says of the program, which is geared toward children. “Once we started giving them these tools to express themselves, they started healing.”
She understands the difficulty in moving beyond sexual, physical, or mental abuse and has some advice for anyone living in shame or fear.
“The way to start to heal is to tell someone — share your stories and start getting help,” she says. “Once you start talking about it, you will be able to release it and not only help yourself, but others.”
Escovedo says she will continue to make music, but her dream is to produce and direct a documentary about the struggles of inner-city youth. “They go to school, but some of them live in their friends’ cars,” she says. “They don’t have food. It’s ridiculous.”
Her desire to shed light on some of society’s greatest ills was spotlighted on her 2017 album Iconic, which features the likes of Ringo Starr, Freddie Stone from Sly & the Family Stone, George Clinton, and Bootsy Collins.
“The songs that we chose were songs that I grew up listening to in the ’60s and ’70s,” she says of the album’s theme of dissent and revolution. “Back then, people wrote about war and protest and peace. During the process of the election a couple of years ago, I was just appalled at what was happening, so I knew that I needed to make a statement.”
Today Escovedo still wants to make a statement. “I just hope that by the time this [article] comes out, people have voted,” she says, “because love and hate can’t exist in the same atmosphere. So I hope that through love, we can change what’s happening in our country today.”
Escovedo is motivated by her deep faith, and although she is as vibrant and creative as ever, she still struggles with Prince’s death. “It’s a daily process,” she says. “You have to move on and live your life, but his friendship and love will forever be embedded in my heart. I will continue to uplift his music as I have in all the years we’ve been together.”
Riptide Music Festival. With Sheila E., the Jacksons, Panic! at the Disco, 311, and others. Friday, November 30, through Sunday, December 2, at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, 1100 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; riptidefest.com. Sheila E. performs Friday, November 30. Tickets cost $90 to $1,100 via riptidefest.com.