Sheila E. isn’t relevant? … What?
That’s what one talk show guest said recently during a flurry of pre-Billboard awards banter on CBS’s “The Talk.”
Guest host Linda Perry, a veteran musician herself, sort of dissed Sheila Escovedo — the percussionist and trailblazer. Perry implied that Sheila E. might not be the right fit to perform a tribute to Prince, her musical soulmate who died suddenly in late April.
Yup, someone got shady with Sheila E., who has shared a stage and artistic space with not only Prince but Diana Ross, Carlos Santana, Michael Jackson, Tito Puente, George Duke and a roster of other musical greats.
Prince in 2004. (Photo: AP)
It didn’t go over so well.
The Internet erupted. Perry was promptly dragged. Sheila E. responded in the midst of a drum solo (“The creations and the creators, contrary to fleeting popularity or fame, is what breathes life into art. … I am offended #RELEVANT”).
But it was Sheila E.’s captivating and funky Prince tribute at the BET Awards last month that slammed the door shut on any discussion of relevance.
As Sheila E. — flanked by members of her band, Prince’s ex-wife Mayte Garcia, members of the New Power Generation and The Time (Jerome!) — jammed through a roster of songs that included “Housequake,” “Erotic City,” “Let’s Work,” “U Got the Look,” “A Love Bizarre,” “The Glamorous Life,” and “Baby I’m a Star,” it was abundantly clear that after more than 40 years in the entertainment business, Sheila E. can still crush a groove.
The Free Press caught up with the legendary performer via telephone in advance of her Motor City show (Friday night at Chene Park). She talked about the epic and emotional BET tribute, her new single “Girl Meets Boy” (which she wrote in memory of the prolific Prince) and her current tour.
Legendary percussionist Sheila E. (Photo: Sheile E.)
QUESTION: Let’s talk about what happened at the BET Awards, after the sudden and painful loss of Prince, you gave the fans a moment they needed. Talk a little bit about that, and what that felt like for you.
ANSWER: Initially, when I said yes to BET, I was not sure that I could even do it. It was personal and emotional, not just for me but it was emotional for everyone. I tried to pick songs we were known for doing together. I wanted it to be upbeat and not sad. We had 2½ days to pull it together. There was a lot of crying. … We all had not been in a room together since his passing. It took a minute for us to get through it, and actually perform.
Q: The day after the BET Awards you released the Prince tribute song “Girl Meets Boy,” written with Mychael Gabriel, which you made available for free download on your website (www.sheilae.com). Can you talk about how that song came to life?
A: Again, that process was very personal. I was working on a dance record at the time; we had started it when this happened. I pulled that project and started writing what was on my heart. It was a week and a half before BET when we started working on it. It came together quickly. … But at first when I tried to sing the melody, I just could not get through it. … I sobbed …. We finished it, and shot a video on perhaps the hottest day in L.A. this summer. I felt it was appropriate to release it when we did. …
I will come back to the dance album, but it will be part of a two-album set. The name of the album will be “Girl Meets Boy,” which we will release in the fall. The “Girl” part will be the dance music; and the “Boy” part will be songs about him (Prince).
Q: Is there anything you want to say about the grieving process and what you are going through?
A: I think everyone understands. My music speaks for me. We have maybe done about five … or six shows since this happened. The first three were horrible. It is going to take some time. People come up and say, “It is not like I knew him personally, and it is still hard for me to accept that he is gone.” It is a hard place to be. It is sad, and my heart still hurts. It is a process. He would not want me to sit here and be sad. That is not what he would have wanted.
Q: Does your current live show include the BET tribute?
Sheila E. performs a tribute to Prince at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Sunday, June 26, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo: Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
A: The show keeps changing and evolving. I was already performing songs that Prince and I had written and performed together. But I am adding more of him. I am including the BET segment, and we have like half of the band that performed on the show. We are starting to add more (of our) band members as we go along.
Q: What excites you about performing?
A: I always get nervous and excited before I play and perform. What gets me really excited is realizing that I have a gift that I have been given. God has blessed me. … It is exciting. Sometimes I sit back and say, “Wow! I actually get to do this.” The fans have been overwhelmingly supportive. And they keep coming back for more. … It does not matter if I play for 300,000 people or a million people or 10 people, the show will have the same passion.
We just love what we do.
Q: Given the current cultural strife and racial unrest — civilian and police shootings, protests, extreme politics — in the U.S., do you see a place for artists to make a difference?
A: To express your feelings through music and art, there definitely is a place for it. People like Marvin Gaye back in the day, and Stevie, wrote songs that are still relevant today. Those songs will stay with us forever; they are for now. It is important for us to use our platform to speak what is in our hearts and on our minds. … There are things that I would like to say that I have never said before.
Q: In terms of women in the music business, have you seen progress over the last four decades?
A: I see a lot of women that have started their own companies, managing their own artists. It has definitely changed. It has gotten better. But we need to progress even more.
Q: The Free Press just named our top 100 songs, “Respect” by Aretha Franklin was No. 1. Do you have a favorite Motown song?
A: Growing up in Oakland and listening to the local radio, they played a little bit of everything. Motown was heavy. Stevie. The Temptations. Diana Ross. We listened to 45s. It is hard to say what my favorite would be. Whatever came on we would jump up and imitate them.
Q: Do you have a favorite song to perform?
A: Anything that I approach or play I have to love it. … I won’t just play something to be playing it. I have to like everything that I do. I just love what I am doing.
Q: What are you listening to these days?
A: It depends on the mood I’m in. I listen to a lot of contemporary gospel. But this morning, before this interview, I was listening to classical.
Q: Early next year, you will host your first concert cruise, the Glamorous Life Latin Cruise. Tell me about it.
A: It was one of the things on my bucket list that I really wanted to do. I decided to do it Feb. 10 through the 13th; it’s three days. We’ll have George Lopez, Debi Nova, Tony Succa, Ozomatli, Judith Hill. We have a lot of people on board. My dad (Pete Escovedo). Unity will do an amazing Latin tribute to Michael Jackson. It’s incredible. There will be a tribute to Prince as well, and a Purple Party. A huge drum circle. We are going to pack a lot into three days. It is going to be a lot of fun.
Just know if you go, you are not going to get any sleep.
Sheila E., Tower of Power, The Infatuations
8 p.m. Fri., Chene Park, Detroit
For tickets, go to www.CheneParkDetroit.com.