When Sheila E. headlines the Ebb & Flow Festival on Sunday in Baton Rouge, she won’t be far from her mother’s hometown, New Orleans.
The daughter of Juanita Gardere and Latin percussionist Pete Escovedo, Sheila Cecilia Escovedo grew up in a vastly musical family in Oakland, California.
“Before I had language, I had rhythm,” the singer, drummer and percussionist writes in “The Beat of My Own Drum,” her 2014 autobiography. “As soon as I could coordinate my hand movements, I began to copy my father, sitting across from him, imitating his beats on my lap.”
The various instruments Sheila E. played during her childhood gave way to her true love, percussion. She followed her father into the music profession.
“I had no choice,” she told The Advocate in advance of her Ebb & Flow appearance. “My dad is amazing and he taught me well. Be kind to people. Do your job. If you make people happy, they’ll call you back.”
The stars Sheila E. has collaborated with on stage and in the studio include Beyoncé, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Ringo Starr, Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Nicks, Gloria Estefan, George Clinton, Cyndi Lauper and Herbie Hancock.
Of course, Sheila E.’s recordings and tours with Prince made her a star. She first sang with him for the “Purple Rain”-era B-side, “Erotic City.” He produced her 1984 album, “The Glamorous Life,” and its Top 10 title song. They also recorded the hit duet, “A Love Bizarre,” and she joined his "Purple Rain" and "Sign O’ the Times" tours.
Sheila E. and Prince were romantically linked for years. In 1987, he proposed to her during a performance of “Purple Rain” in Europe. After their romance ended, they remained close.
Following Prince’s death in 2016, Sheila E. recorded her version of his song, “America.” It’s featured on her new album, “Iconic: Message 4 America.”
Recording “America,” which she’d performed many times with Prince, was an emotional experience.
“Because I’d been playing that song since its inception with him,” she said. “It was strange to record it and then think about how he’s not here and he’s not going to hear it.”
Sheila E.’s memories of Prince include his fearless creativity.
“He changed his sound all the time,” she said. “There are people who always want to do the same thing, the same way. But he didn’t. There was a cohesiveness within albums, an idea, but he was not afraid to experiment. Change is good. You can’t grow if you don’t change.”
For her guest-filled “Iconic: Message 4 America” album, Sheila E. interprets message songs from the 1960s and ’70s. Selections include socially conscious classics by Allen Toussaint, James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, the Staple Singers, Jackie DeShannon and Curtis Mayfield.
The 2016 presidential election inspired her to scrap the dance album she’d been recording in favor of songs whose lyrics, despite being decades old, spoke to the present.
“I had to say something, but I didn’t have time to write the songs that I wanted to write,” she said. “So, I recorded these songs that I grew up with because of the lyrics. It’s about bringing people together.”
Released last year, the album returned Sheila E. to the Billboard charts for the first time in 26 years. True to form, it’s another all-star collaboration. Guests include Ringo Starr (“Come Together”), George Clinton (“One Nation Under a Groove/Mothership Connection”), Bootsy Collins (“JB Medley”), Freddie Stone (“Everyday People”), Candy Dulfer (“America”), her father Pete and brothers Juan and Peter Michael.
“I love being a part of a team,” she said.
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Ebb & Flow Festival, iHeart Radio Stage