Is the real revelation of “The greatest night in pop” Sheila E.?

Is the real revelation of “The greatest night in pop” Sheila E.?

“They offered me record deals in exchange for sex, hotels in Las Vegas named after me. I refused, continuing to work hard and trying to break down these barriers of a male-dominated world. To the girls I say: you must have confidence in yourself and be prepared”: perhaps from her career Sheila E. deserved more than she actually got.

Drummer, singer, session musician for jazz giants like George Duke and Herbie Hancock, daughter of a great musician like Pete Escovedo, collaborator of Carlos Santana, feminist when female empowerment was not in fashion in the recording industry: Sheila Escovedo, this her real name, she was not only Prince’s muse, his female alter ego. The Californian musician’s contribution to the Minneapolis elf’s music was fundamental and Sheila E.’s touch played a crucial role in shaping the distinctive live sound of “Purple Rain”: the two – who were also lovers – had met seven years earlier, but it was only between 1983 and 1984 that their partnership led to the genesis (first) of Sheila E.’s debut album “The glamorous life” and (then) to the live partnership for the tour of “ Purple rain”.

Long loved and venerated as a cult artist, the musician – now 66 years old – is among the revelations of “The greatest night in pop”, the Netflix documentary that brings to life the magical night in which, in 1985, “We are the World” was born ”.

She was there too, that evening, at the A&M Studios in Hollywood, among stars of the caliber of Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles. And – forty years after the undertaking – in the documentary just released on the platform she took a few pebbles out of her shoes, taking revenge against those who also debased and belittled her in the industry for too long. “I was on the road with the ‘Purple rain’ tour at the time. He remembered Lionel Richie telling me, ‘After the American Music Awards we’re all going to sing this song and I’d like you to sing one of the verses.’ I said, ‘Well, that would be great,’” Sheila E. reconstructed, speaking of her involvement in the project. The singer was very active at that moment, after Prince had tailor-made a perfect dress for her like “The glamorous life”, repaying the sacrifices of a long apprenticeship: “There weren’t many other girls who played. And the things the kids said to me were hurtful. ‘You’re not good, you’re not great, you’re only here because you know Herbie Hancock or George Duke or because your dad or Tito Puente can get you a record deal.’ And again: ‘Write down my number’, ‘Let’s go have sex’. Prince, on the other hand, treated me differently. He wooed me by sending me flowers, like the gentleman he was.”

The truth is that Lionel Richie hoped that by involving Sheila E.

even Prince would have managed to include “We are the World”. But he himself didn’t want to hear about that operation: “The rivalry with Michael Jackson was real. It would have been amazing to see Michael and Prince singing together. A very powerful message: two like them who had decided to join forces to save lives”, recalls the voice of “All night long”. Sheila, who had been promised her own verse, at first felt pampered: “I called Prince to let him know how he was doing. I told him, ‘I think maybe you should come. It’s all beautiful and we’re having fun.’ But Prince had other plans.” Lionel Richie then tried to start negotiations with the elf from Minneapolis: “he said to me: ‘I want to play the guitar by myself. In another room’. But I told him that the plan was for us all to be in the same room.” Meanwhile, time passed and Sheila hadn’t yet recorded half a verse: “It was getting late and I couldn’t wait to sing one of the verses. But they kept asking me, ‘Do you think you can convince Prince?’ I felt used: they wanted Prince to show up and they thought that by holding me back, sooner or later he would arrive.” It wasn’t like that. And in the end the musician got impatient: “I already knew that he wouldn’t come, because there were too many people and he would have felt uncomfortable. I said to Lionel, ‘I’m going.’ They never intended for me to sing, which was a little heartbreaking.”

The collaboration between Sheila E. and Prince would be renewed in 1985 for the album “Romance 1600”, which went gold in the United States, and for the subsequent “Sheila E.” in 1987, then the paths of the two took different directions: the musician continued to record records, from “Sex cymbal” in 1991 to “Icon” in 2013, passing through “Writes of passage” and “Heaven”, but without great results. “We remained friends with Prince all our lives,” she said after the artist’s death in 2016. Curiosity: Huey Lewis sang the verse of “We are the World” originally intended for Sheila E. in the end.