All right, this is an article about Sheila E. – so let’s get the Prince stuff out of the way.
The famed drummer/percussionist/singer – and well-known Prince protégé – has found that interviewers usually throw in a question about His Royal Badness (who produced her first three albums) just to address the elephant in the room.
So what do they ask? “Most of the time, it’s how I met him, or what is it like to work with him,” she says. “Those are the basic two.”
Considering that the two still collaborate from time to time (she performed with him when he did the Coachella Music Festival in 2008), what’s the relationship like now? “I’ve known him since 1978,” she says. “So when we can work together, we do. And we do, of course, our own projects and I do a bunch of other projects with other artists as well. So it’s just when I have the time to do it, I’ll play with him. And, if not, I continue to move on.”
When Sheila E. says she moves on and works on “a bunch” of other projects, ol’ girl is not kidding. It appears Sheila (who will turn 55 next month) is always doing something somewhere, whether it’s recording music, performing live or taking part in a charity event. “Yeah, there’s a lot going on,” she says. “I have done a lot in the last two years, and it is challenging. I do get extremely tired trying to do everything.”
She appears to be more in demand than ever. Earlier this year, film composer Hans Zimmer and superstar producer Pharrell Williams assembled an all-star band to perform at the Oscars. Guess who they called to handle percussion?
“I did it because Hans Zimmer is a friend and I’ve been doing projects with Hans Zimmer as a composer,” she says. “And he asked me, ‘Look, I’ve been asked to do the Academy Awards, and I’m not gonna do it unless you do it.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness – are you crazy?’ ”
Another buddy of hers, saxophonist Dave Koz, called her to join his all-star band for his annual Christmas tour. “He invited me to come see his Christmas show a couple of years or so ago, and I really enjoyed it,” she remembers. “I thought it was fantastic. So last year, he asked me to be a part of the Christmas show and I said, ‘You know what? I might want to do that.’ ”
But it’s her work as a philanthropist and a mentor that Sheila E. is most passionate about these days. The reason she was in Cincinnati was to perform in at a gala celebrating the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati Black and Latino Achievers program. “I love talking to the youth and helping them as much as I can or encouraging them, if I can help them at all,” she says. “What drives me is really just being able to be a blessing to someone, you know. I really enjoy that, and as much as I can do, I will.
“That’s how we grew up – kinda like Pops would put his drums, his percussion and instruments into the car and we would just go to a facility in the Bay Area and he would say to us, ‘You think we have it bad? There are people worse off than we are. Let’s go give back to the kids.’ And that’s how we grew up.”
Sheila E. also has many things lined up. Her DVD, “Sheila E.: Summer Tour 2012” is available for pre-order on her website. She’ll also be dropping a new album next year on her label, Stiletto Flats Music – probably around the same time she’ll release her autobiography, “From Pain to Purpose.” She says this is just the beginning of what she has planned. “I do have a bucket list of things that are not even in the equation of what we’ve spoken about thus far,” she says.