meta-script2020 GRAMMYs: Usher, Sheila E. & FKA Twigs Honor The Purple One With A Prince-Themed Medley Tribute Performance | GRAMMY.com

FKA Twigs and Usher

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2020 GRAMMYs: Usher, Sheila E. & FKA Twigs Honor The Purple One With A Prince-Themed Medley Tribute Performance

Some of the most celebrated singers, dancers and instrumentalists in the industry took to the stage during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards telecast to honor the late musical icon Prince

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2020 - 07:19 am

Some of the most celebrated singers, dancers and instrumentalists in the industry took to the stage during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards telecast to honor the late musical icon Prince.

Usher kicked off the performance with a soulful rendition of "Little Red Corvette." The R&B superstar was accompanied by master drummer and Prince’s former protege, Sheila E., and ran through two other recognizable hits in The Purple One’s lauded catalog "When Doves Cry" and "Kiss," which won the GRAMMY for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 1987.

As expected, Usher gave the audience a taste of his dance skills, performing with a talented group of movers and shakers. Singer and dancer FKA Twigs also brought sensuality to the performance, as she captured the audience with an extraordinary pole dance during "When Doves Cry."

The performance was done in anticipation of the Recording Academy's upcoming Prince tribute special Let’s Go Crazy: The GRAMMY Salute to Prince, which will take place on Jan. 28, and will be broadcast at a later date.

Prince To Receive All-Star GRAMMY Tribute Concert Featuring Beck, Alicia Keys, John Legend And More

Prince performing in 2004
Prince performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 2004

Photo: Kevin Kane/WireImage via Getty Images

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7 Legendary Prince Performances You Can Watch Online In Honor Of 'Purple Rain'

Fans of the Purple One, unite: it's time to celebrate 40 years of 'Purple Rain.' Crank up these classic Prince performances in tribute to that epochal album, and beyond.

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2024 - 02:35 pm

Have we really been living in a Princeless world for eight years? It doesn't feel like it. With every passing year, Planet Earth feels more of the magnitude of the Purple One's unbelievable accomplishments. Which includes the sheer body of work he left behind: his rumored mountain of unreleased material aside, have you heard all 39 of the albums he did release?

Yes, Prince Rogers Nelson was an impressive triple threat, and we'll likely never see his like again. In pop and rock history, some were wizards in the studio, but lacked charisma onstage, or vice versa: Prince was equally as mindblowing in both frameworks.

His iconic, GRAMMY Hall of Fame-inducted 1984 album Purple Rain — a soundtrack to the equally classic film — turns 40 on June 25. Of course, crank up that album's highlights — like "Let's Go Crazy," "When Doves Cry," and the immortal title track — and spin out from there to his other classics, like Dirty Mind, 1999, and Sign o' the Times.

To get a full dose of Prince, though, you've got to raid YouTube for performance footage of the seven-time GRAMMY winner through the years. Here are seven clips you've got to see.

Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland (1984)

Feast your eyes on Prince, the year Purple Rain came out. With guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardist Dr. Fink, drummer Bobby Z., flanking him, even suboptimal YouTube resolution can't smother the magic and beauty. Check out this killing performance of Purple Rain's "I Would Die 4 U," where Prince's moves burn up the stage, with Sheila E. as much a percussion juggernaut as ever.

Read More: Living Legends: Sheila E. On Prince, Playing Salsa And Marching To The Beat Of Her Own Drum

Carrier Dome, Syracuse, New York (1985)

"Little Red Corvette," from 1982's 1999, has always been one of Prince's most magical pop songs — maybe the most magical? This performance in central New York state borders on definitive; bathed in violet and maroon, caped and cutting a rug, a 26-year-old Prince comes across as a force of divine talent.

Paisley Park, Minnesota (1999)

"I always laugh when people say he is doing a cover of this song… It's his song!" goes one YouTube commenter. That's absolutely right. Although "Nothing Compares 2 U" become an iconic hit through Sinead O'Connor's lens, it's bracing to hear the song's author nail its emotional thrust — as far fewer people have heard the original studio recording, on 1985's The Family — the sole album by the Prince-conceived and -led band of the same name.

Watch: Black Sounds Beautiful: Five Years After His Death, Prince’s Genius Remains Uncontainable

The Aladdin, Las Vegas (2002)

Let it be known that while Prince could shred with the best of them, he could equally hold down the pocket. This Vegas performance of "1+1+1=3," from 2001's The Rainbow Children, is a supremely funky workout — which also shows Prince's command as a bandleader, on top of the seeming dozens of other major musical roles he'd mastered by then.

Read More: Bobby Z. On Prince And The Revolution: Live & Why The Purple One Was Deeply Human

Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction (2004)

Words can't describe Prince's universe-destroying solo over the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," in front of an all-star band of classic rockers including Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and George Harrison's son, Dhani. At song's end, Prince's guitar wails for a few more rounds, he tosses his Telecaster into the pit, and he struts offstage. We'll never see his like again.

Super Bowl Halftime Show (2007)

If you're the type of Super Bowl devotee who skips the Halftime Show, please — make time for Prince. When he digs into the trusty "Let's Go Crazy," it's hard not to follow suit. With fireworks blazing, and the Love Symbol brightly illumined, Prince arguably outshined the football game — as he tumbled through inspired cover after cover, by CCR, Dylan, and more. Naturally, he crescendoed with "Purple Rain," augmented by the drummers of the Marching 100.

Read More: Behind Diamonds and Pearls Super Deluxe Edition: A Fresh Look At Prince & The New Power Generation’s Creative Process

Coachella (2008)

At Coachella 2008, Prince offered a bounty of karaoke-style yet intriguing covers — of the B-52's ("Rock Lobster"), Sarah McLachlan ("Angel"), Santana ("Batuka"), and more. Chief among them was his eight-minute take on Radiohead's (in)famous first hit, "Creep," with a few quixotic twists, including flipping the personal pronoun I to a very Prince-like U.

"U wish U were special, / So do I," he yelps in the pre-chorus. Oh, Prince: to quote the radio-edited, de-vulgarized chorus of "Creep," you were so very special.

8 Ways Musicology Returned Prince To His Glory Days

Usher Collaborator Pheelz Talks New EP
Pheelz

Photo: Williams Peters

interview

Meet Usher Collaborator Pheelz, The Nigerian Producer & Singer Who Wants You To 'Pheelz Good'

After working with Usher on two tracks for his latest album, 'Coming Home,' Lagos' Pheelz is looking inward. His new EP, 'Pheelz Good II' drops May 10 and promises to be an embrace of the artist's unabashed self.

GRAMMYs/May 9, 2024 - 01:15 pm

If you were online during the summer of 2022, chances are you’ve heard Pheelz’s viral hit single "Finesse." The swanky Afro-fusion track (featuring fellow Nigerian artist Bnxn) ushered in a world of crossover success for Pheelz, who began his career as a producer for the likes of Omah Lay, Davido, and Fireboy DML.

Born Phillip Kayode Moses, Pheelz’s religious upbringing in Lagos state contributed to his development as a musician. He manned the choir at his father’s church while actively working on his solo music. Those solo efforts garnered praise from his peers and music executives, culminating in Pheelz's debut EP in 2021. Hear Me Out saw Pheelz fully embrace his talent as a vocalist, songwriter, and producer. 

"I feel important, like I’m just molding clay, and I have control over each decision," Pheelz tells GRAMMY.com about creating his own music. 

2022 saw the release of the first two tapes in his Pheelz Good trilogy: Pheelz Good I and Pheelz Good (Triibe Tape), which was almost entirely self-produced. The 29-year-old's consistency has paid off: he produced and sang on Usher’s "Ruin," the lead single from his latest album Coming Home, and also produced the album's title track featuring Burna Boy. But Pheelz isn't only about racking up big-name collaborators; the self-proclaimed African rockstar's forthcoming projects will center on profound vulnerability and interpersonal honesty. First up: Pheelz Good II EP, out May 10, followed by a studio album in late summer.

Both releases will see the multi-hyphenate "being unapologetically myself," Pheelz tells GRAMMY.com. "It will also be me being as vulnerable as I can be. And it’s going to be me embracing my "crayge" [crazy rage]...being myself, and allowing my people to gravitate towards me."

Ahead of his new project, Pheelz spoke with GRAMMY.com about his transition from producer artist, designing all his own 3D cover art, his rockstar aesthetic, and what listeners can expect from Pheelz Good II.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What sparked your transition from singing in church to realizing your passion for creating music?

For me, it wasn’t really a transition. I just always loved making music so for me I felt like it was just wherever I go to make music, that’s where I wanna be. I would be in church and I was the choirmaster at some point in my life, so I would write songs for Sunday service as well. And then I would go to school as well and write in school, and people heard me and they would love it. And I would want to do more of that as well. 

A friend of my dad played some of my records for the biggest producers in Nigeria back then and took me on as an intern in his studio. I guess that’s the transition from church music into the industry. My brothers and sisters were in the choir, but that came with the job of being the children of the pastor, I guess. None of them really did music like me; I’m the only one who took music as a career and pursued it.

You made a name for yourself as a producer before ever releasing your music, earning Producer Of The Year at Nigeria’s Headies Awards numerous times. What finally pushed you to get into the booth?

I’ve always wanted to get into the booth. The reason why I actually started producing was to produce beats for songs that I had written. I’ve always been in the booth, but always had something holding me back. Like a kind of subconscious feeling over what my childhood has been. I wasn’t really outspoken as a child growing up, so I wouldn’t want people to really hear me and would shy away from the camera in a sense. I think that stuck with me and held me back. 

But then COVID happened and then I caught COVID and I’m like Oh my god and like that [snaps fingers] What I am doing? Why am I not going full steam? Like why do I have all this amazing awesomeness inside of me and no one gets to it because I’m scared of this or that?

There was this phrase that kept ringing in my head: You have to die empty. You can’t leave this earth with all of this gift that God has given you; you have to make sure you empty yourself. And since then, it’s just been back-to-back, which just gave me the courage.  

How did you react to " Finesse" in former President Barack Obama’s annual summer playlist in 2022?

Bro, I reacted crazy but my dad went bananas. [Laughs.] I was really grateful for that moment, but just watching my dad react like that to that experience was the highlight of that moment for me. He's such a fan of Barack Obama and to see that his son’s music is on the playlist, it just made his whole month. Literally. He still talks about it to this day. 

Experiences like that just make me feel very grateful to be here. Life has really been a movie, just watching a movie and just watching God work and being grateful for everything.

At first he [my dad] [didn’t support my career] because every parent wants their child to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. But when he saw the hunger [I have], and I was stubborn with [wanting] to do music, he just had to let me do it. And now he’s my number one fan. 

Your latest single, "Go Low" arrived just in time for festival season. What was it like exploring the live elements of your art at SXSW and your headlining show in London at the end of April?

I have always wanted to perform live. I’ve always loved performing; Pheelz on stage is the best Pheelz. Coming from church every Sunday, I would perform, lead prayers and worship, so I’ve always wanted to experience that again.

Having to perform live with my band around the world is incredible man. And I’ll forever raise the flag of amazing Afro live music because there’s a difference, you know? [Laughs.] There are so many elements and so many rhythms and so many grooves

I’ve noticed that much of your recent cover art for your singles and EPs is animated or digitally crafted. What’s the significance, if any, of this stylistic choice?

It still goes back to my childhood because I wasn’t expressive as a child; I wouldn’t really talk or say how I felt. I’d rather write about it, write a song about it, write a poem about it, or draw about it. I’d draw this mask and then put how I’m feeling into that character, so if I was angry, the mask would be raging and just angry.

The angry ones were the best ones, so that stuck with me even after I started coming out of my shell and talking and being expressive; that act of drawing a mask still stuck with me. And then I got into 3D, and I made a 3D version of the mask and I made a 3D character of the mask. So I made that the main character, and then I just started making my lyric videos, again post-COVID, and making them [lyric videos] to the characters and making the actual video mine as well.

In the future, I’m gonna get into fashion with the characters, I’m gonna get into animation and cartoons and video games, but I just wanna take it one step at a time with the music first. So, in all of my lyric videos, you get to experience the characters. There’s a fight [scene] among them in one of the lyric videos called "Ewele"; there is the lover boy in the lyric video for "Stand by You"; there are the bad boys in the lyric video for "Balling." They all have their own different characters so hopefully in the near future, I will get to make a feature film with them and just tell their story [and] build a world with them. I make sure I put extra energy into that, make most of them myself so the imprint of my energy is gonna be on it as well because it’s very important to me.

You and Usher have a lengthy working relationship. You first performed together in 2022 at the Global Citizen Festival, then produced/co-wrote "Coming Home" and "Ruin." Take us through the journey of how you two began collaborating.

It started through a meeting with [Epic Records CEO] L.A. Reid; he was telling me about the album that they were working on for Usher and I’m like, "Get me into the studio and lemme see what I can cook up." And they got me into the studio, [with Warner Records A&R] Marc Byers, and I wrote and produced "Coming Home." I already had "Ruin" a year before that. 

["Ruin"] was inspired by a breakup I just went through. Some of the greatest art comes from pain, I guess. That record was gonna be for my album but after I came home I saw how L.A. Reid and Usher reacted and how they loved it. I told them, "I have this other song, and I think you guys would like it for this album." And I played "Ruin," and the rest was history.

Before your upcoming EP, you’ve worked with Pharrell Williams, Kail Uchis, and the Chainsmokers in the studio. What do you consider when selecting potential collaborators?

To be honest, I did not look for these collabs. It was like life just brought them my way, because for me I’m open to any experience. I’m open to life; I do it the best I can at any moment, you understand? 

Having worked with Pharrell now, Dr. Dre, Timbaland, and the Chainsmokers, I’m still shocked at the fact that this is happening. But ultimately, I am grateful for the fact that this is happening. I am proud of myself as well for how far I’ve come. Someone like Timbaland — they are literally the reason why I started producing music; I would literally copy their beats, and try to sound like them growing up. 

[Now] I have them in the same room talking, and we’re teaching and learning, making music and feeding off of each others’ energy. It’s a dream come true, literally.

What's it like working with am electro-pop group like the Chainsmokers? How’d you keep your musical authenticity on "PTSD"?

That experiment ["PTSD"] was actually something I would play with back home. But the crazy thing is, it’s gonna be on the album now, not the EP. I would play it back home, like just trying to get the EDM and Afrohouse world to connect, cause I get in my Albert Einstein bag sometimes and just try and experiment. So when I met the Chainsmokers and like. "Okay, this is an opportunity to actually do it now," and we had a very lengthy conversation. 

We bonded first as friends before we went into the studio. We had an amazing conversation talking about music, [them] talking about pop and electronic music, and me talking about African music. So it was just a bunch of producers geeking out on what they love to do. And then we just talk through how we think the sound would be like really technical terms. Then we get into the studio and just bang it out. Hopefully, we get to make some more music because I think we can create something for the world together.

I’ve noticed you dress a bit eccentrically. Have you always had this aesthetic?

I’ve always dabbled in fashion. Even growing up, I would sketch for my sister and make this little clothing, so like I would kick up my uniform as well, make it baggy, make it flare pants, make it fly. 

I think that stuck with me until now, trying different things with fashion. And now I have like stylists I can talk to and throw ideas off of and create something together. So yeah, I want to get into the fashion space and see what the world has in store for me. 

What can fans expect as you’re putting the finishing touches on your upcoming EP Pheelz Good II and your album?

Pheelz Good II, [will be] a close to the Pheelz Good trilogy of Pheelz Good I, Pheelz Good Triibe Tape and Pheelz Good II. The album is going to be me being unapologetically myself still. But it will also be me being as vulnerable as I can be. 

It’s going to be me embracing my crayge [crazy rage]. Like just embracing me unapologetically and being me, being myself, and allowing my people to gravitate towards me, you get me. But I’m working on some really amazing music that I am so proud of. I’m so proud of the EP and the album.

Mr. Eazi’s Gallery: How The Afrobeats Star Brought His Long-Awaited Album To Life With African Art

Prince at the 2004 GRAMMYs
Prince performs at the 2004 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

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8 Ways 'Musicology' Returned Prince To His Glory Days

Twenty years after the release of Prince's commercial comeback, 'Musicology,' dig into how the album reminded the world of the Purple One's musical genius and legendary status.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 02:00 pm

After nearly a decade in the commercial wilderness, Prince seemed determined to bring his music back to the masses with his 28th studio effort. While announcing its release, the Paisley Park legend had one thing to declare: "School's in session."

Eschewing the jazz fusion sound of his previous releases in favor of a more mainstream blend of pop, R&B, funk, and soul, Musicology proved to be a valuable lesson. It returned the megastar to the upper reaches of the Billboard 200, earned five GRAMMY nominations (and two wins), and reasserted Prince's place on the touring ladder. Even the previously dismissive critics came back on board, with Rolling Stone declaring it "as appealing, focused, and straight-up satisfying an album as Prince has made since who can remember when."

And while Prince was always a prolific artist, it seems Musicology was highly inspirational for the Purple One himself, too. Just two days after the album's release, Prince dropped both his 29th studio effort, The Chocolate Invasion, and his 30th, The Slaughterhouse, exclusively online.

Of course, it's the major label release that has become the more notable part of his remarkable oeuvre. Musicology paved the way for a string of further late-career classics and revived the legacy that's still going strong nearly ten years after his untimely death.

In honor of Musicology's 20th anniversary, here's a look at how Prince's masterclass reaffirmed his status as an artistic genius.

It Saw Prince Return To His Best Form… 

After three albums of jazz fusion (The Rainbow Children, Xpectation, N-E-W-S) and the piano-heavy One Nite Alone..., it appeared as though Prince was no longer interested in the melting pot of sounds that defined his imperial phase. But Musicology showed his polymathic tendencies were still intact.

Channeling the acts he explicitly namechecks (James Brown, Earth Wind and Fire, Sly and the Family Stone), the opening title track was the slickest, funkiest thing he'd put his mononym to in years. Accompanied by one of his most provocative videos, "Cinnamon Girl" harks back to the classic roots rock of the Rolling Stones, while the epic ballad "A Million Days," Marvin Gaye-esque soul of "Call My Name," and jam session "If Eye Was the Man in Ur Life" all further helped the record to live up to its "no boundaries" pre-release claims.

…And Also Saw Him Return To Lyrical Form 

It wasn't just on a musical level that Prince flourished. Whereas its predecessor was largely focused on his conversion to the Jehovah's Witnesses, Musicology's lyrics embraced more universal themes — from the domestic bliss of "Reflection" ("Did we remember to water the plants today") to infidelity drama "What Do U Want Me 2B."

Prince's sublime storytelling abilities are perhaps best showcased on "Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance," a money versus love debate involving a gigolo and a much older socialite. He also proved he could still tackle serious issues with "Cinnamon Girl," the story of a mixed-race youngster impacted by post-9/11 paranoia. Gossip hounds, however, will be most intrigued by "Life O The Party," which appears to take a blatant pot shot at one of his fellow '80s superstars ("My voice is getting higher/ And I ain't never had my nose done/ That's the other guy").

It Brought Him Back To The Charts

Prince had been one of the dominant Billboard 200 artists of the 1980s with Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, and the Batman OST all reaching No. 1. But thanks to the record company dispute that inspired his name change to an unpronounceable squiggle, uncommercial release strategies (several albums were only available via his NPG fan club) and the general law of diminishing returns, his chart appeal started to wane from the mid-1990s onward. In fact, 2001's The Rainbow Children peaked no higher than 109!

However, issued through Columbia (his first major label release since Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic on Arista five years earlier), Musicology completely reversed his fortunes. Reaching No. 3, it became the star's first top 10 album since 1995's The Gold Experience and his highest charting since 1991's Diamonds and Pearls.

It Pioneered A New Sales Strategy 

In 2017, more than a third of the year's Billboard 200 chart-toppers benefited from ticket bundles, a release strategy in which a chart-eligible free copy of a new album is given away — when manually redeemed — with each concert sale. This included The Killers' Wonderful, Wonderful, Shania Twain's Now, and Kenny Chesney's Live in No Shoes Nation, the latter becoming the first live album to reach the spot in seven years.

While this was the technique's commercial pinnacle, the idea was actually first instigated by Prince. Indeed, proving that he could still be ahead of the curve in his fourth decade as an artist, Musicology was automatically made available to anyone attending Musicology Live 2004ever for no extra charge. This accounted for 125,000 copies (roughly 25 percent) of the 632,000 sold in its first five weeks. In fact, the experiment proved to be so successful that Billboard decided to change its rules to avoid the potential for chart manipulation.

It Gave Him Further GRAMMY Glory 

Keen to remind everyone of his inimitable talents in time for Musicology's release, Prince graced the GRAMMYs stage just two months beforehand and, with a little help from Beyoncé, brought the house down. The two generational icons kicked off the ceremony with a spellbinding medley which included the former's "Purple Rain," "Let's Go Crazy" and "Baby I'm a Star" and the latter's "Crazy in Love."

The following year, Prince was back as a five-time nominee. Not only were they his first R&B nominations in nearly a decade, but his two wins — for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Call My Name" and Best Traditional R&B Performance for "Musicology" — marked the Purple One's first GRAMMY wins since 1987.

It Set The Stage For A Trio Of Now-Classic Releases 

Prince certainly didn't waste the goodwill earned from his surprising commercial renaissance. In 2006, the Purple One achieved another major milestone when 3121 became his first album ever to debut atop the Billboard 200, knocking off the soundtrack from Disney phenomenon High School Musical in the process. Named after the address of the house he was renting during its recording, Prince's fourth U.S. chart-topper also spawned his first Hot 100 entry in seven years with the funky "Black Sweat."

Prince followed it up with 2007's No.3-peaking Planet Earth, a record controversially released for free as a Sunday newspapercovermount in the UK, but in the more traditional way this side of the Atlantic. And this particular golden period was wrapped up in 2009 with Lotusflow3r, a Target exclusive triple album also designed to showcase the talents of his latest protege Bria Valente, which reached No. 2. Without Musicology paving the way, this trio might not have attained late-classic status.

It Restored His Reputation As A Must-See Live Act 

While Prince had always remained a popular live draw no matter his commercial success, his touring presence since the start of the century had been a little unpredictable. His supposed 'world tour' of 2003 was largely confined to Australia; his One Nite Alone... run the year previously was more jazz club than regular gig, and 2001's A Celebration was reportedly cut short over a record company dispute.

Musicology fully restored him to must-see status. Its accompanying trek, which plotted 77 dates across 55 U.S. cities, sold over 1.4 million tickets, grossing a whopping $87.4 million along the way to become the most lucrative of 2004 — and the highest-grossing tour of Prince's career. Its success allowed Prince to launch a record-breaking 21-date residency at London's O2 Arena and the lengthier, guest-heavy Welcome 2 tour, during which he was joined on stage by everyone from Whitney Houston to Whoopi Goldberg.

It Fearlessly Embraced His Past 

Contrary to his previous array of jazz fusion albums, Musicology suggested Prince was now content to reconnect with his chart-topping megastar past. Its title track even concludes with some radio station surfing featuring snippets of "Kiss," "Little Red Corvette," and "If I Was Your Girlfriend."

It was a similar story with its accompanying tour. Giving exactly what his fans wanted, the set lists were largely comprised of his greatest hits, with his new album only getting a nod on a handful of occasions.

The Musicology era was Prince's way of showing that he hadn't forgotten why everyone fell in love with him in the first place, while simultaneously extending his creative legacy. Whether looking back at all of its accolades or checking out all of the celebrations on Prince's official Instagram page, it's clear that Musicology remains a vital part of the Purple One's catalog 20 years on. 

Behind 'Diamonds and Pearls' Super Deluxe Edition: A Fresh Look At Prince & The New Power Generation’s Creative Process

Sheila E. performs during the GRAMMYs Salute To Prince
Sheila E. performs during the GRAMMY Salute To Prince in 2020

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

interview

Living Legends: Sheila E. On Prince, Playing Salsa And Marching To The Beat Of Her Own Drum

"I was a percussion player leading my band, playing timbales, which no one really understood," Sheila E. says of her debut record. Forty years later, the GRAMMY-nominated multi-hyphenate is still forging her own path on the energetic new record, 'Bailar.'

GRAMMYs/Apr 5, 2024 - 01:22 pm

GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter, producer and percussionist Sheila E. has certainly had a glamorous life — and has done a lot with it. 

The child of percussionist Pete Escovedo and goddaughter of legendary timbalero Tito Puente, Sheila Escovedo has been energizing stages for most of her life. First performing as a child, Sheila was one of few female percussionists in the 1970s and '80s, and rose to the upper echelons of the music industry — performing alongside Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Herbie Hancock and Diana Ross. Whether in session or onstage, her dynamism and inventiveness continually made Sheila the star of the show. 

"I think outside the box," Sheila E. tells GRAMMY.com. "You just come up with ideas and it doesn't have to be traditional. It just has to be from your heart, a feeling that makes sense, that compliments whatever song it may be." 

Sheila's energy and unique approach to playing drums, timbale, and percussion caught the attention of Prince, a unique artist in his own right. The two spent decades as creative partners – Sheila acting as the Purple One's drummer, producer, musical director and, for a time, romantic partner; Prince shepherded her 1984 solo debut, A Glamorous Life, into being — and worked together until his death. Among her lasting contributions to their musical legacy, Sheila performed on the Purple Rain sessions and toured the album, and her vocals appear on "Erotic City." The two duetted on Sheila's 1986 single "A Love Bizarre" and, fittingly, got engaged in the middle of a performance.

In addition to her list of impressive accomplishments (which include co-founding the educational nonprofit Elevate Oakland), Sheila E has released eight albums as a solo artist. Her ninth, Bailar, finds the one avenue Sheila had yet to pursue: salsa. 

Recorded in Miami with a cast of local musicians, the 10-track record features originals and covers in both Spanish and English, and its lead single — an energetic cover of Celia Cruz's "Bemba Colorá featuring Gloria Estefan & Mimy Succar — fittingly has Sheila playing percussion, timbale and singing. 

"This is the best record I've ever done. I feel that good about it," she says. Ahead of Bailar's April 5 release, Sheila E. spoke with GRAMMY.com about creating music in a new idiom, the importance of collaboration, and finding space in music. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

You've been working in the funk, R&B and pop space for years. What brought you to salsa now?

I've wanted to do a salsa record for a long time. My bucket list is extensive, and then I met [GRAMMY-winning producer and timbale player] Tony Succar in 2015… he did a project and took Michael Jackson songs and flipped them into salsa. I said, "Man, if I ever do my salsa record, we have to do it together because you understand."

I'm bringing that Oakland vibe to salsa. My dad was a Latin jazz artist — that's the foundation of who I am —  however, he also played salsa music in the house. I grew up listening to Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz and Tito Rodriguez, and the Fania All-Stars.  Our whole family loves salsa dancing.

There was music that I had written for an R&B album that I didn't release, and I said we can take some of this and flip it into salsa. This is another side of me that I'm excited about sharing with the people. 

Bailar sounds like something you would hear in New York or Miami, but there's something slightly different about it. What are you bringing to this record that might be different from another salsa band?

Salsa is very demanding. It's specific and traditional; there are things that are supposed to be played in specific sections of a song — whether it's a conga rhythm, a timbal rhythm, a cowbell rhythm. The element of the Bay Area and the Latin jazz with a little bit of funk, that was me [adding something new]. 

I always wanted to do "Bemba Colorá." I did a rumba in front of it and took a conga solo, and when I got to the half-time of that song, I said, "I want to take a drum solo." I don't think anyone has taken a drum solo or have even played drums on this song…especially a woman. Just adding different elements like that, as well as the way that I mix: where I place the horns and where I place the percussion and where the bells are and where the drums are. 

Tony Succar and I produced this record together. I did a couple of arrangements [and] co-wrote seven of the 10 songs. The songs that I had already written were arranged, but then we wanted to flip them into salsa. 

Are there any other songs on this record that you're particularly proud of?

All of them. Every one is a different story. The only woman that I could think of to call [for "Bemba Colorá"] was Gloria Estefan; she's like my sister. Mimi Succar is a new and upcoming artist, so we had her to sing as well, and the three of us just had a blast. 

[Also] playing "Anacaona," which is a song I used to hear [by] Fania All-Stars and Cheo Feliciano. My dream was to have Rubén Blades sing on my record; he sang that song and I started crying. I was just overwhelmed. 

["El Rey del Timbal"] was one song that I had played with Tito [Puente] and my dad many times. When Tony sent me the demo, I listened to it and was like, "We got to go way faster than that. If Tito was playing it, he would've played it this way, and I know because I've played it with him."  So I started taking a solo, banging my legs while I was listening to it through the phone, and I just kept going faster, and then Tony's like, "Are you serious? This is 200-something BPMs." 

It was perfect for me taking the timbale solo, but when I had to then overdub and play all the parts on the bells and everything, it was so fast, I was like, What was I thinking? The horn section had it worse. A trumpet player yelled on the track  — "Ahh!" —  and I boosted him yelling [on the final mix], because that's real stuff.  It took everything for them. 

I'd love to hear a little bit about your relationship with Tito Puente and any important musical lessons he taught you, especially now that you're coming out with an album that's very much influenced by his work.

He was such an influence. He was amazing. He did so much for us as a family, musically, as well as being our friend and growing up listening to him. He and my dad met when they were 18, and having him around the house when I was growing up, I didn't even know he was.  

The biggest thing was we would go to New York, my dad and I, and we would sit in with Tito at the Palladium and the Corso. And back then, you'd have four bands playing in one night until 6 in the morning. And they would jump from one club to the other. It was the most stressful time because, as jazz artists, we didn't hardly sit in with salsa bands. I was like, "But papa, I don't know the clave, I don't understand what bell pattern or what conga pattern to play." He goes, "Don't worry about it. You don't listen to those guys. You just go play you."

So he kept encouraging [me]: it doesn't matter, you have the heart to go ahead. And my pops would say the same thing: We might not understand it technically, but we play it from our heart. [Tito] always encouraged me, and I got to play with Celia, Tito and [bassist] Cachao [Lopez] at the same time.

What a dream come true. Tito introduced me to all of these musicians as well, but really just telling everybody, "You be quiet and just let Sheila play."

Read more: Celebrating Tito Puente's Centennial: 10 Essential Songs By The Mambo King

Bailar is a bit more celebratory than your last album, 2017's Iconic: Message 4 America, which was heavily political. Obviously we continue to live in increasingly fraught times; why was it important for you to put more positive messages out into the world? One of your tracks is even called "Possibilities."

We are living in hard times, and it's challenging. Things are changing every single day. And everyone is going through something every single day.  One of the things that has been such a blessing to me is the gift of music. I don't take it for granted. To be able to share music and at least make people happy for the five minutes that you listen to this song or the entire record…is healing.

Many times in my shows, people end up crying. It's emotional, and music brings joy. It lifts you up. It brings you to a place of happiness and love, and we just want you to have a good time. But the joy that I get to be able to do this, it heals me too. And I just thought it was important.

Your work and relationship with Prince is so extensive and deep. What would you consider the peak of your creative partnership?

I don't think there ever was. We continued to grow and just kept experimenting on different sounds, and recording and jamming. We first jammed together in 1977 when he came to my house. We either recorded or played together [on] so many songs. There's still tons of stuff in the vault…I counted at least 200 songs I played on that I haven't even heard yet.

We were always jamming, coming up with something, or recording. A lot of times I would engineer for him as well; it's just he and I [in the room] most of the time. I taught myself some engineering when I was growing up; I saved all my money and started buying recording gear so I could learn how to write and produce myself when I was in my teens. 

So when I started to record with [Prince], I had already recorded songs on tape before. Being in the studio with him, we would see who could stay up the longest, who's going to fall asleep first. We would catch each other [falling asleep] almost at the same time. 

*You also worked with Prince on your debut album, 1984's The Glamorous Life. You'd been working so much as a musician up to that point already that it's interesting to think of it as your debut. How did you work on that project together?*

We had already been jamming and playing together before we did all that. And I had been out on tour with so many artists beforehand; when we first met, I was already touring with George Duke in the mid-'70s. [Prince was] like, "I've been watching you and I'm following your career, and maybe one day we could do something together." 

He started doing all these albums, and then he becomes the Prince that we all know. He changed every record, which was amazing musically. At the time [we recorded Glamorous Life], he was at Sunset Sound [recording studio and] he had all the rooms going at the same time. We just went in and started recording.

Prince was very involved in getting me the deal with Warner Brothers. He just one day said, "You want to do the record now?" And I was like, "Yeah, I think I'm ready. Let's do it." It was that simple. We went into the studio and we were pretty much done with my record, from top to bottom, in a week.

We just stayed in there, literally no sleep. We were so excited. We had so much fun.

Back then, I wasn't really playing drums a lot. I wanted to make sure that my percussion was in the forefront, and he knew that too. That's how Glamorous Life came about, to showcase me in a light that I wasn't really a singer. I was a percussion player leading my band, playing timbales, which no one really understood because, in pop culture, no one had done that. 

So it took even a minute for [Warner Brothers] to understand releasing the record. They wanted to release "Belle of St. Mark" first as the single and not "Glamorous Life"; I had to fight them on it because I said, "'Glamorous Life' is a song that is important to me, and it showcases me as a percussionist and a singer. If I do 'Belle of St. Mark,' it's only me singing. I'm not even playing percussion."

I would love to hear about other musical collaborators who are a big part of your story.

I've been able to play with so many people: George Duke and my dad, and [drummer] Billy Cobham, [bassist] Alfonso Johnson, and it went on. Then [jazz guitarist] Lee Ritenour and [jazz pianist] Patrice Rushen and all of these other artists; Herbie Hancock…. Then you go switch over to Marvin Gaye, and then you go to Brooks & Dunn. I just hopped all over the place with Con Funk Shun and sitting in with so many people and recording. When we do these events, you get to sit and play with Phil Collins and Elton John; I'll just play percussion, I'll be the backup. I don't need to be in the front. Part of what I love is I get to be on both sides.

I can be a team player and play with a group, which is so exciting. Or if you want to feature me, that's fine. That's kind of what had happened throughout my life; anyone that I performed with would just say, "Sheila, you just go out in the front." They would push me out there. Marvin Gaye is like, "Sheila, you take over. I'm going to go back and change." He made it a part of his show. And then same thing with Lionel Richie. Everyone would just feature me, it became that thing. Everyone has influenced me in some sort of way.

You're out there being featured and just putting so much into your performances. You have this incredible amount of energy. What powers you?

God's given me the gift and point-blank. I am forever grateful to be able to do what I get to do because of that gift. I don't take it for granted. 

You have musical directed the Obama's Festival Latina, the Recording Academy's Tribute to Prince, and of course, you were his musical director for many years. Does that work require a special set of musical muscles?

When it comes to music and just being an artist, whatever you put into it is what you get out. I would always do the homework that was needed to play with an artist — learn all the music — so when I walked into a situation, I would walk in with confidence. I wasn't a great reader at all; it was really all by ear. That preparation is everything. 

Putting together my first ever band during that time in the early '80s, I knew what I wanted. [Today] I'm able to put together projects and put the right people together. For some people, it's just a gig and for me, it's more than that. It's a lifestyle and it's family and it's trust and it's respect. 

How did you choose the music for "Let's Go Crazy: The GRAMMY Tribute To Prince"?

Some of the songs they already had, some of the other songs I suggested. Almost everything that they were going to play, I knew and I had a lot of the original music. I had a lot of the samples; I had Prince's vocals. There were things that I had that could help in some of the arrangements, and a lot of the arrangements I used from my show. 

You try to adjust to make sure that [the artists] shine and that they feel comfortable, because everyone was really nervous. I had many conversations with people making sure, "Is this a good key for you?" Making sure that "You don't have to sing it like Prince. This is your representation of who you are and you happen to be doing a Prince song and no one's going to judge you for it." 

Speaking of collaborative efforts, The Greatest Night in Pop music doc came out recently. What do you remember from recording "We Are the World"? 

I kind of didn't want to do it because, initially, we were on the Purple Rain tour [and] we were exhausted. At some point I thought,  Do I even belong in that caliber of people? 

[At the "We Are The World" session,] everyone was hanging out, everybody was really cool. No one had a huge entourage. I was excited to meet people I hadn't met before. One of the people I was excited about meeting was Cyndi Lauper. I loved her. I wanted to meet Bruce Springsteen, the boss. 

In that moment of being in that room with everyone, and it was just amazing to [think], Wow, we're going to do something incredible to be able to raise money for people who are starving.  Then you just take a breath and you do what you do, and then things happen.

Do you think that you have changed or contributed to the sound of percussion in R&B and pop music?

My style is my style. Different artists from the Bay — Sly and the Family Stone, Carlos Santana, my dad's band [Azteca], Grateful Dead, Tower Of Power, of course, Pointer Sisters — listening to all those bands and being able to watch their rehearsals when I was a teenager influenced me. 

The key was being adaptable to what needed to be for that specific song. You have to make up your own beats, because being a percussion player is like [working on] a beautiful painting that's already painted and they're asking you to put one color in there or you see a space — what would you put in that space? 

It's not about playing all over the place and playing something that doesn't belong. You have to figure out those spaces and, to me, the most important part of music is space. That space is what allows a song to breathe.

I would use different things even in the studios; I didn't use all of the right mics all the time. I would bite on an apple and sample it and put that sound on top of the snare. I just experimented. I started on pots and pans, and I used keys, and I used a spray bottle can that blows out air to clean your computer as a high hat. Everything can be musical. 

One of the biggest things is Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough." Quincy [Jones] had called me and said, "Michael wants this kind of sound, I don't know what it is, bring all your toys." I brought everything. I ended up getting two bottles and I poured water in it, and I used the holder to play the triangle on the sides of the bottle. So "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough" has those bottles.  

You just come up with ideas and it doesn't have to be traditional. It just has to be from your heart, a feeling that makes sense, that compliments whatever song it may be.

Are there any other female percussionists out there right now that you see carrying the torch that you lit?

Oh my God. There are so many drummers right now. I go on social media frequently throughout the week, and I try to find at least someone new and DM them and say, "You're amazing. God bless you. Thank you for your gift. Keep doing what you're doing," and people freak out. 

That's part of my job, to continue to encourage the young people to keep playing. 

You've mentioned in previous interviews that you've dealt with a lot of harassment throughout your career as a woman playing an instrument that women don't traditionally play. I'd like to know how you continued to move forward and own your vision in an industry, and in an era, where women are often belittled or posited as like sex objects.

When I first started, I didn't know it was a big deal that I was one of few — or one of one — that was doing what I was doing. In the Bay Area, you see a lot of women playing percussion. In Berkeley, we all go and hang out at the park and everyone plays and it's like 20 or 30 of us and whoever brings their instrument, they just jam with us.

Coming to L.A. and recording with other artists, when I walked into a room, the drummer would say, "Can you get me a cup of coffee?" And I'm like, "I'll get it for you but I'm not the receptionist or anything. I'm the percussion player." They would freak out. 

When that first started happening and things were being said that were really rude and bad, I would go back to my parents. They would just say, "You just keep doing what you're doing. They're jealous or they're mad because you're there, or they've never seen anyone like you. You have a gift and you just go ahead. You learn the music, know what you have to do, so when you walk in with confidence, it's not an issue." A lot of the time, those musicians were not prepared, and I was, and they hated me even more because I knew everything. 

I got so much joy out of performing. And even with all the nos and the nastiness and the stuff that was being said [like], "Hey, if you sleep with me," all of these other things. It just made me stronger. You keep pushing through; you just keep playing. 

When you find your passion and that's your purpose, no one can stop you.  I stand on that word.

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