Sheila E. & Prince's Relationship Makes Her The Perfect Performer For The 2016 BET Awards' Tribute
After Madonna paid tribute to the late Prince at this year's Billboard Music Awards in May, the official Twitter account of BET promised big things on the horizon. "Yeah, we saw that. Don't worry. We got you," the network said in a tweet that has since been deleted, according to Rolling Stone. Now, it's hard to get much bigger than the Material Girl, but the BET Awards has a contender with its Prince tribute slated to feature Sheila E., The Roots, D'Angelo, and Janelle Monae during Sunday night's telecast, the network announced earlier this month. And in case you need a history lesson on how Sheila E. was connected to Prince since she's not as familiar to contemporary music audiences, ask and you shall receive.
Sheila E. first met Prince in 1978 backstage at one of his shows in San Francisco, she recounted to The Associated Press in April. The daughter of veteran percussionist Pete Escovedo, Sheila E. was making a name for herself as a drummer at this point too, which Prince had been following.
The two soon started working together. Their first collaboration was on Prince's single "Erotic City," which Sheila E. lent her vocals to, according to the bio on her official website.
Prince was also something of a mentor to Sheila E., and he helped her kick off her own solo career, Billboard describes, producing her early albums and writing some of her most famous singles, including "The Glamorous Life" and "A Love Bizarre." But Sheila E. didn't totally strike it out on her own at that point. She went on to open Prince's Purple Rain Tour and then decided to put her own solo career on hold to join his band in an effort to take a break from the spotlight and just play the drums, she explained to Billboard in April.
Sheila E.'s relationship with Prince took on a whole new romantic level when he proposed to her in the middle of performing "Purple Rain" while on tour in 1987, she confirmed in her 2014 memoir The Beat of My Own Drum, as reported by The New York Daily News. But the two seemed to always be so in love that Sheila E. said she doesn't even know how long they were engaged. "This is the thing: we were together for so long I don't really know when we weren't," she told Billboard. "We always loved each other. He really did care for me."
But Sheila E. did eventually leave the band and Prince, which she could sense was going to happen toward the end of the 1988-1989 Lovesexy Tour. "Things were changing, the new music he was writing didn't feel right for me — lyrically it was not saying much, he was cursing again and I had stopped cursing, and where was the melody? And I just didn't want to be around him," she said during her interview with Billboard. "We both took it hard. It was the hardest [breakup] I ever had, because I had to break up with my best friend. It was like a divorce. It was horrible."
However, it wouldn't be long before Sheila E. and Prince shared the stage again. They performed together several times over the years, such as at the 2005 NAACP Image Awards, the 2006 Brit Awards, and the 2007 NCLR ALMA Awards, which you can check out below.
The two remained close over the years too, and the last time Sheila E. performed with Prince was in 2011 during his 21-show residency at the Forum just outside of Los Angeles, she told Billboard. Sheila E. sent her best wishes to Prince but did not speak with him while he was resting at his Paisley Park compound in Minnesota after she heard reports that his plane made an emergency landing for medical treatment, according to The Associated Press. She said she last spoke to him about eight months prior to his April 21 death.
Not only will Sheila E. be keeping Prince's legacy alive by being a part of the BET Awards tribute, but her late fiancé also inspired her new single "Girl Meets Boy." "This is very personal, and it's from my heart to him," she said during a recent interview with Access Hollywood.
And who better than someone like Sheila E. who adored Prince — the musician and the man — to honor his memory in what could be his most touching tribute yet.