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Sheila E

Posted: 15 July 2022

Sheila Escovedo, better known as Sheila E is an American drummer, percussionist and singer/songwriter. She’s best known for being the drummer and good friend of the legendary Prince.

Here we take a look into her life, career and the key skills that helped her to become the iconic player that she is today.  

Read time - 4 mins


Born in Oakland, California in 1957, Sheila was born into a musical family and was surrounded by music from a young age. Her father Pete was a professional percussionist and was hired by Carlos Santana for his band Santana as well as leading the Latin big band Azteca. 

When Shelia was just 3 years old, she developed a love for playing various musical instruments, feeling the most connected to the drums as well as other percussion instruments.

As a young child, she’d watch and copy the hand movements of her father as he played the drums—planting the seed for what would quickly become her life’s passion. At the age of 5, Sheila gave her first public performance for an audience of 3,000, appearing alongside her father. Shelia later said that it was whilst on that stage playing her drum solo that she realised she was going to be a percussionist.

By her early 20s, Sheila had already performed with the likes of George Duke, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Herbie Hancock, and Diana Ross. She joined The George Duke Band in 1977 and appeared on a number of Duke's albums between 1977 and 1980 such as ‘Don’t Let Go’ and his most successful album ‘A Brazilian Love Affair’.

She first met Prince in 1977 when she attended one of his shows in San Francisco. After the show Sheila went backstage to meet him. She put her hand out to introduce herself and before she could even speak, he said “I know who you are, I’ve been following your career for a long time. You’re an amazing drummer and percussionist.” From there their friendship blossomed and Sheila’s solo project was even invited to be the opening act on his Purple Rain tour.

In 1986, Shelia agreed to join Prince’s band, wanting to take a step back and ‘just play drums’ for a while.

She joined the band on their Sign O’ the Times Tour, where Prince famously proposed to her in the middle of their performance of ‘Purple Rain’. Sheila took the difficult decision to leave the band towards the end of the Lovesexy Tour, as the new music he was writing didn’t feel right with her.

Sheila continued her solo career as well as continuing to tour the world as both a percussionist and drummer, with artists such as Phil Collins and Ringo Star. She has also featured as a session drummer with artists such as Cyndi Lauper and Beyonce, along with featuring as a percussionist alongside Hans Zimmer on the soundtrack for ‘The Boss Baby’ film.


Sheila E has used DW drums over the years, in particular the DW Collector Series in Maple. She uses a 18” x 20” bass drum, 5” x 13” Snare Drum with 7” x 8”, 8” x 10”, 9” x 12”, 11” x 14”, 13” x 16” Toms. She also includes a 8” x 22” Bass Drum Woofer in her setup, which is used to act as a Sub-Woofer and enhance the roundness of her bass tone and add low-end punch.

Sheila uses all sorts of percussive instruments, such as Timbales, Congas and Cowbells. She primarily uses LP equipment, with who she has her own signature set of Wooden Timbales with.


It’s evident to see how much of an inspiration Sheila’s father, Pete Escovedo, was to her playing – he was not only her inspiration to start drumming but his Latin Jazz style has clearly influenced her throughout her career. She has previously stated that it wasn’t only her father who has had an influence on her career as a musician but also the rest of her family.

Most of Sheila’s beats match Latin tom/snare grooves with funk bass drums. Many of her most recognisable beats can be boiled down to rhythms that originate on a conga, before she brings them to a full drum kit to fill them out. If you listen to her solo work you will also notice that her other instrumentation and her vocals follow percussive patterns rather than overarching melodies, given her songs a unique flayour.

She plays with passion, precision and power. Her jazz and percussive influences allow her to play with speed and versatility, yet keeping things elegant and smooth. She ranges from playing Jazz all the way to Rock, and plays each to an extremely high level.