Born in California, Sheila E. is the daughter of Juanita (Gardere), a dairy factory worker, and percussionist Pete Escovedo, with whom she frequently performs. Escovedo is of Mexican and Creole heritage. Sheila E’s uncle is Alejandro Escovedo., and Tito Puente was Escovedo’s godfather. She also is niece to Javier Escovedo, founder of seminal San Diego punk act, The Zeros. Another uncle, Mario Escovedo, fronted long-running indie rockers, The Dragons. She also is the niece of Coke Escovedo who was in Santana and formed the band Azteca. Nicole Richie is Sheila E.’s biological niece, the daughter of Sheila’s musician brother, Peter Michael Escovedo.
Sheila made her recording debut with jazz bassist Alphonso Johnson on “Yesterday’s Dream” in 1976. By her early twenties she had already played with George Duke, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Herbie Hancock, and Diana Ross. She also plays guitar.
Prince met Sheila E. at a concert in 1978, when she was performing with her father. After the show he met her and told her that he and his bassist “were just fighting about which one of us would be the first to be your husband”. He also prophetically vowed that one day she would join his band. The two would eventually join forces during the Purple Rain recording sessions. She provided vocals on the B-side to “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Erotic City” in 1984. Though taken under Prince’s wing, she proved to be a successful artist in her own right. In 1984 she scored hits with “The Glamorous Life” (#7 on the Hot 100), which also topped the dance charts for two weeks in August 1984. The video for the song would bring her an MTV award nomination for Best Female Video. Her second release “The Belle of St. Mark” (#34), would be NME ‘Single of the Week’. She opened for the Purple Rain Tour and the duo simultaneously began a brief romantic relationship, while Prince was still seeing Susannah Melvoin, twin sister of The Revolution band member, Wendy Melvoin.
In 1985 she released Romance 1600, scored another hit with the track “A Love Bizarre” (#11), and the non-album track “Holly Rock” made its way to live shows and into the film Krush Groove. She was also nominated for an American Music Award and two Grammy awards for Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Performance Female for the song “The Glamorous Life”. Sheila E. recorded three albums during the ’80s, The Glamorous Life, Romance 1600, and Sheila E.. She appeared in four films, Krush Groove with Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J and Blair Underwood in 1985, Prince’s concert film, Sign “O” the Times in 1987 The Adventures of Ford Fairlane and Chasing Papi in 2003.
During the Sign “O” the Times, Black Album, and Lovesexy periods of Prince’s career (including the Lovesexy World Tour), Sheila E. served as his drummer and musical director in his backup band, dubbed The New Power Generation not long after her departure. During the Sign “O” the Times era, she released the single “Koo Koo” from her third album Sheila E., which had Sign “O” the Times member Cat as a backup dancer in the accompanying video. Sheila E. also served as a writer and musician on many of Prince’s records, as well as on the albums of his protégés such as Madhouse.