There are two kinds of successful musicians in this world. There are those who cultivate their own talent and rise to the top in memorable fashion, leaving an impressive legacy. Then there are those who are considered musical prodigies, coming from gifted families and facing expectations to achieve great things. Sheila Escovedo is an example of the latter. She comes from a family steeped in a rich musical history and has been immersed in her craft since the age of three.

Sheila E

Sheila E. at Global Green USA’s 9th Annual Pre-Oscar Party, Avalon, Hollywood
Photo: S Bukley

Sheila E, as she is known professionally and onstage, is American born with a rich cultural and musical history that includes a mixture of Mexican, American, and Creole cultures with a jazz musical influence. Her heritage and musical roots come directly from her parents and immediate family. Her musical talent comes directly from her father Pete Escovedo who is a famous Latin Jazz musician with Mexican-American heritage.

Pete Escovedo himself comes from a musical family. Pete and his brothers Alejandro Escovedo, Coke Escovedo, Javier Escovedo, Bobby Escovedo and Mario Escovedo are all talented and accomplished musicians in their own right. Pete is a percussionist, a talent he passed along to his daughter Sheila. Pete and his brother Coke initially formed the group Escovedo Bros Latin Jazz Sextet. The group disbanded in the late 1960s when Pete and Coke were hired to join Carlos Santana on tour, becoming a part of the main group to lead a rock, Latin, and jazz fusion musical style.

While Sheila E’s father was famous on his own, her uncles were equally talented and achieved their own musical accolades. Her uncle Javier Escovedo founded the group The Zeros, a seminal punk rock band from the San Diego area. Mario Escovedo was the front man for a number of years for indie group The Dragons. The most important collaboration in Sheila’s life occurred when her father Pete and his brother Coke formed the group Azteca, a big band Latin and Jazz fusion group.

It was in this group that Sheila E’s talent was fostered and from which she would find her true love of percussion and music, launching her to a successful career. At the tender age of five Sheila was invited on stage at the sold out Sands Ballroom in Oakland, CA by her father to perform a percussionist solo. Those 3,000 individuals in attendance bore witness to the start of what would become a brilliant career.

Pete Escovedo and Sheila E

Pete Escovedo and Sheila E at Rhythm on the Vine charity event to benefit Shriners Children Hospital at the Gainey Vineyard

From that point on, Sheila E had one goal for her life. She longed for her own career in music to carve out her own path of success separate of that enjoyed by her musical family, but built with respect on the foundation they had provided. Although she began touring and recording at the age of 17 with Azteca and other acts, Sheila’s big break came in her mid-20s when she was given a shot in 1983 by high-flying musician Prince.

The two had met at a concert in 1978, but it wasn’t until 1983 that Prince and Sheila joined forces. The collaboration began as Prince assisting her with the recording of her first album, but would blossom into a working relationship. After recording her first album in 1983 with Prince’s help, Sheila went on to tour on Prince’s sold out Purple Rain tour through 1984-85. While on tour with Prince, Sheila was working on her second album and would go on to tour with another big name after opening for Prince.

During the spring of 1986 she opened during a three-month engagement for Lionel Richie. Aside from a working relationship, Richie and Sheila are connected through family. Lionel agreed to raise Peter Michael Escovedo’s daughter Nicole as his own because Peter initially lacked the ability to financially support his daughter. As Peter is Sheila’s brother, she is Nicole Richie’s aunt.

The 1980s saw Sheila E reach incredible heights in her career, and over the past two decades her collaborations and successes have become too numerous to list individually. In addition to working with Prince and Lionel Richie, her musical collaborations over the years include work with greats such as Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Herbie Hancock, Phil Collins, Beyoncé Knowles, and her godfather Tito Puente.

Since her career began in 1976, Sheila E has enjoyed great success and a great variety of exposure in a number of genres. As time has worn on, Sheila has not slowed down. During the first decade of the 21st century she has participated in a number of high profile events. In 2001, 2003, and 2006 she performed with Ringo Starr as a member of the Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band.

To date in 2012, Sheila E has performed at the 2012 Academy Awards, featured on the “Dancing with the Stars” results show, and headlined the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, CA.

Sheila E’s rich cultural and musical heritage has helped mold her into one of the greatest drummers and percussionists of our time. It should not be overlooked however, that she is much more than a singularly talented individual. Her musical abilities have expanded to include songwriting, singing, composing, and producing music. Though American by birth, Sheila E’s vast roots in Mexican and Creole culture have helped her become the musical talent she is today.