Sheila E, Prince and a Life in Music


I  originally wrote an article on Sheila E.’s memoir on April 10th. I never imagined just a few days later that Prince would pass away. Although it’s about Sheila E.’s memoir, Prince played a big role in her story. And when I think of Sheila E., I also think of Prince. Sadly, Denise Matthews (Vanity), who I also admired from the Prince camp passed away this past February.

Honestly, I am too sad to write an article about Prince today.

Sheila E.’s book provides a glimpse into the times she shared with him. I suggest reading it. Below are my impressions of that book.

In the book (written with Wendy Holden), The Beat of My Own Drum: A Memoir honestly takes the reader through a journey from early youth to days of wisdom. It’s such a jam packed story that when you get to the last chapter and read there is even more to tell in another book, you are left hanging a bit. I was so enjoying the telling of her exciting life that I almost felt cheated to hear there was more she hadn’t included. But a smart storyteller does leave you wanting more.

There is a wisdom one gets in their 50s, and perhaps that is what enables her to tell the beauty and the beasts she encounters within her childhood and throughout her musical career. She admits she likes to have fun, too, and so it is a roller coaster read.

Sheila E. (originally Sheila Escovedo) was born on December 12, 1957 in Oakland, California. Her big fame was to begin in 1984 with the release of her song, “The Glamorous Life.” At least, that’s when I first took note of her, even though she was growing up about the same time as I was but on the other side of the San Francisco Bay. In 1984, that song and Sheila E. offered something totally new. MTV was at its height then and her video showed a woman with style and in command. The words of her song went between a woman having “big thoughts, big dreams” to “But without love it ain’t much.” Another line was, “She thought real love is real scary.” A girl in her 20s (as I was) could have all those confusions. Sheila E. presented both an empowering and yet totally feminine presence.

Upon reading her memoir, I learned how even more inspiring she is. Even though she grew up in a loving family, with lots of them around, she also experienced sexual abuse. She notes in the book how much it must have hurt her parents to learn that she did experience sexual abuse as a 5-year old child, a secret she kept for many years. Her father, the famous percussionist, Pete Escovedo would provide her musical inspiration and her mother, Juanita exemplified to her how to be forever tenacious. Both her father’s and mother’s influence were perhaps the secret ingredients to her becoming a woman to break barriers as a percussionist, and to later have the heart to help others who suffered childhood abuse.

Her story is truly glamorous at times, including high profile relationships with Carlos Santana and Prince, and yet no one can deny that she didn’t work hard to get what she has. Her work ethic and tenacity are notable. Her career is full of great moments, for sure, and it thankfully continues. The life of a talented perfectionist can take its toll though and it does for her later in life with some health setbacks.

In her later reflections, Sheila E. offers advice to up-and-coming musicians, and explains the intricacies and downfalls of the music industry. She also reflects on what saved her – her faith. She was born into church-going parents, but it wasn’t until later in life that she would realize the seeds that were planted then would serve her well later. It might seem odd to some to go from one chapter to speaking about her relationship with Prince, to just the next chapter speaking about her personal relationship with God. But the transition can be that easy. If God reaches out to you or you to him, your life can change in an instant.

Sheila E. has led an amazing life, one that seems without much leisure. She earned her status. She is honest to open up about the good times and the hard times.

I must say I envied Sheila E. in the 80s, getting to hang out with Prince during his Purple Rain days and beyond. But after reading her book, I learned of her struggles – the many obstacles, and the many blessings. The dedication to her music and perfecting it was rewarded by getting to work with and learn from the best of the best.

Fans of musicians can only pay them back with what might seem as silly gushing words, or attending their concerts or buying their music. That’s about all the average fan can do to show appreciation of the great music and memories they provide.

In reading Sheila E.’s memoir, I learned how hard it can be and what price a musician can pay to provide those inspiring moments for us fans.

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