Sheila E: Playing to the Heartbeat of God

Janet Chismar | Senior Editor, News & Culture | Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Sheila E: Playing to the Heartbeat of God

With her trademark five-inch heels, sultry beauty and unusual talent on drums, Sheila E. piqued the public's imagination in the 1980s, courtesy of MTV, as Prince's protege. Sheila had appeared as a vocalist on the b-side of Prince's hit, "Let's Go Crazy." With that exposure, she signed a solo record contract with Warner Brothers Records. Her debut album, In The Glamorous Life, yielded the US Top 10 single of the same name and the U.K Top 20 hit, "The Belle Of St. Mark." Her sophomore project, In Romance 1600, was released on Prince's Paisley Park label in 1985 and featured the hit single, "A Love Bizarre," with Prince himself on backing vocals.

Sheila Escovedo's musical career began much earlier, however. Growing up in Oakland, Calif., Sheila was highly influenced by her father, Pete Escovedo, then band leader of the group Azteca. While watching him rehearse, she started banging on conga drums at the age of three. At the tender age of 5, with 3000 audience members watching, the little girl was invited on stage by her father to play a solo. After an overwhelming response and feeling of heaven on earth, Sheila told her dad that she knew exactly what she wanted to do. She was going to be a percussionist.

While in high school, Sheila played with her father's band, appearing on two of his albums. Soon after, she met Prince and was quickly thrust into the spotlight. But few people knew that underneath the glamorous exterior, Sheila's heart ached for God.

Her journey has been winding and often painful. She has endured intense physical suffering, and was abused by neighbors as a child. But the Lord used that anguish to lead Sheila into His arms. Now she wholeheartedly serves the Kingdom, Sheila E at Korea Worship Explosionusing her talent to His glory. Her new CD, Heaven, includes songs such as "Anticipation," "Joy," "Heaven," "Waiting For You," "Trust Me," "Closer," "River God" and "Revelation."

Her ministry, The Lil' Angel Bunny Foundation, is an organization committed to providing abused and abandoned children with exceptional care by promoting a healthy self-awareness through music, the arts, and human compassion. They supply funding to special programs and services that assist in the needs of disadvantaged children throughout California, and eventually the United States.

Sheila will play this Saturday, May 25, at the American Worship Gathering in Washington, D.C. She also traveled to Seoul, South Korea, last October with the Worship Alliance artists for an event called "Korea Worship Explosion." It was there that I got to sit down with Sheila and hear how she found the Lord.

Janet: Many of our readers may not realize you are a follower of Christ. Can you trace your story for them? How and when did you come to know Jesus as your savior?

Sheila: Well, I was raised Catholic and only went to church because we had to. I actually gave my heart to the Lord the first time when I was 18. I was playing in George Duke's band and one of the singers was driving me to a meeting and I was crying, just stressed out. There was a bunch of stuff going on and I said, "You know what? This is crazy." She said, "Look, if you just give your heart to the Lord, everything will be fine." And I thought, "You know, it's not that easy." She said, "No, really, really."

So we prayed in the car. I went into the meeting and she came back and picked me up. I actually felt better, relieved, and we just talked. We were out on tour at the time. When we came back, I was doing session work in Los Angeles, and there were a lot of Christians, very famous people in the secular mind. And I saw how they acted and I said, "I don't want to be a Christian because the things that they are doing are so wrong." I felt I was better off not being a Christian. I was very discouraged because of how Christians were acting and because, back then, "the thing" to be or become was born again. It was like a fad, you know? So, I just got turned off.

Janet: How did the Lord recapture you after your detour?

Sheila: I had actually met Prince in 1978; we've been friends for the entire time. In 1991, I finally quit his band and the whole organization. I was totally exhausted. So, I went to Japan with my band to do a tour and when I came back, my neck was really bothering me. I was stressed out and totally exhausted, mentally and physically. I went to get acupuncture and they punctured my lung accidentally.

That really turned me upside down, because I was so used to being able to do whatever I wanted to do. It just knocked me down. At first, I didn't even know. I was walking around for three days mixing my record and I kept saying, "Something is wrong, I just can't breathe," and I almost passed out. One of my managers back then, whose sister worked in a hospital, said, "You better go get some X-rays." I went and they determined my left lung was 80 percent collapsed. They told me, "You're lucky to be alive - you could have died." I was so scared.

I stayed in the hospital about a week, and mentally, that shut me down. I've been through a lot in my entire life, my life has been up and down, but that just really messed me up. I thought, "Man, I'm not invincible," you know? "I'm not in control. Lord, please help me, what am I going to do?"

When I got out of the hospital, about a week later, I flew back to Minneapolis. While I was there, I was taking medication and it made me really sick. It was making me lose weight. And I had happened to turn around to sneeze, and my back went out. I fell to the ground and my legs gave out. I couldn't walk, so they had to carry me around, and I was temporarily paralyzed for two weeks.

Janet: What was that from?

Sheila: It was actually from playing drums. I had worked myself for 10 years nonstop on tour, not getting any sleep, traveling the entire time and not resting. Plus, playing in five-inch heels for eight to 10 hours a day, it shortened my calf muscles and messed up my back.

Sheila EI had left Prince's band anyway because I really felt his direction was wrong, I was uncomfortable, you know? I was changing and I knew something was missing, but I didn't know what. I knew that my life had to change and I didn't want to live that way anymore or be in that environment, where it was always so negative. It was just wrong.

So anyway, when my body shut down, I couldn't walk. I had to fly my doctor in from Los Angeles into Minneapolis. He stayed there to work with me, but it took a long time, and plus the medicine was making me sick. I got to the point where I was 85 pounds. I was thin; I couldn't eat. My cousin was spoon-feeding me. It would take me 20 minutes to eat a spoon of mashed potatoes because my body had no energy. I actually thought I was going to die. My body shut down, I shut down, I was really scared.

It was then that I decided, "You know what, Lord? If you just give me another chance, I'll do whatever you want me to do." I got the Bible and I started reading and I kept it on my chest. I slept with it and never took it out of my hand for weeks.

I had been stuck in the house because I couldn't get up. And I was afraid. Fear had overtaken my body. I was afraid to get in the elevator to go downstairs because I thought that I was going to die, that something would happen if I left my comfort zone.

Finally, I got in the elevator and got downstairs and I walked outside. I hadn't been outside in a month. As soon as I walked outside, I saw this crack on the ground and I bent over and touched it. I just cried. Then I went over and I touched the grass and I just couldn't believe the feel - to touch and feel grass. Then, I walked over to a tree and I just hugged the tree. I looked up at the sky and it was so blue. I laid on the grass on my back and said, "Lord, look at all these wonderful things you've given us that we just take for granted. I thought that I needed this and I needed that, but I only need you." That was the turning point.

Read Part Two here:  Part Two: Sheila E. Undergoes a True Revolution