Sheila E., an undefinable and consummate musician

Sheila E. is known for her Latin jazz roots and mastery of drums and percussion, yet she often jokes that the only music she has yet to play is Polka.

Considering she won CMT’s “Gone Country” competition last year, which led to the song, “Glorious Train,” Sheila E. might very well explore the “oom pah” sound, or anything else that she sets her mind to.

“She’s got that talent,” said trumpeter Joey Sommerville. “People who have longevity in their careers, it’s not about the last hit record they had, it’s about their ability to communicate with people musically.”

On Sept. 4, Sommerville hosts Sheila E., jazz guitarist Nick Colionne and saxophonist Marion Meadows at Mable House Barnes Amphitheatre.

Sheila E. has a new album to be released this month. Prince helped launch her first album “Glamorous Life,” in 1984. Much of her career has been spent working as a music director or performing behind some of music’s top artists.

She was tinkering with music instruments at age 3. Her father is famed percussionist Pete Escovedo. And her godfather was the late musician, Tito Puente.

In addition to music, empowering women and service are close to Sheila E.’s heart. She has talked about being raped at age 5 by a babysitter and remembers the days when the close-knit Escovedo family lived on welfare. Still, Pete Escovedo regularly took his five children to visit foster care facilities to play music and uplift less fortunate kids.

Today, Sheila E. is co-founder of a charity for abused children, Elevate Hope. She recently discussed her career with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Q: Why has there been such a focus on working with other musicians instead of your solo career?

A: I've been able to [do both.] I'm not a person who needs to be in the limelight. [For instance], as a music director for Beyonce, she wanted to put together a band that was able to play a little funk, and also she wanted [me to put] a little bit of Sheila E. in what she was doing, which was cool.

Q: Were there any road blocks for a woman on instruments traditionally played by men?

A: I didn't know there was a gender attached to playing percussion [until] I started flying from Oakland to Los Angeles to do sessions, and realized there weren't that many women playing percussion. There was always a fight in me saying, "Why can't I do this? Well, I'm going to prove them wrong."

Q: What would you want young female musicians to learn from your experiences?

A: I've walked around stage with hardly any clothes on. And my mouth was not very clean. I created that person and then didn't like it. Know who you are. Sometimes it takes a couple of albums to figure out what you really like. For me, there are so many different types of music -- a little rock and roll with some funk; or some African rhythms with some Asian music. You can mix up everything and make that sound yours. It's endless.


Atlanta-based trumpeter Joey Sommerville host Sheila E., Nick Colionne and Marion Meadows in concert. 6 p.m. Sept. 4. $25-$75. Mable House Barnes Amphitheatre, 5239 Floyd Road, Mableton. 770-819-7765,