When I was offered a chance to review the Sheila E. episode of the TV One show Unsung, I jumped at it because Sheila E. is incredible. She grew up in a famous musical family in Oakland, toured with George Duke, was a musical partner of Prince, had some pretty great solo success, she's the goddaughter of Tito Puente, and, oh yeah, she's a drummer. A female drummer. Sheila's played with every musician that matters and has lived an incredible life. The episode is a pretty great look at the life of one of America's truly great musicians.
Sheila Escovedo grew up in Oakland, at a time when Oakland had some seriously influential musicians coming out of it. Sly and the Family Stone and The Tower of Power were just emerging as major groups to watch. Sheila's whole family is musical so she started with music at a young age, which I knew. What I didn't know is that her dad wanted her to be a violinist; he thought that classical training on that instrument would make more financial sense than, say, playing the drums. Because let's face it, how many female drummers can you name?
The episode details her time touring with music legend George Duke, then, of course, gets into what people really want to know: her relationship with Prince. And she does dish a little. I was surprised to hear that her sexy image was her idea, and that Prince was sometimes concerned about it. She talks about her big solo single "Glamorous Life" and how fame changed her.
Several people are brought in to talk about Sheila; her father and brother do the bulk of the talking, but I thought it was interesting to hear from Hammer (he's dropped the MC) as he was growing up in Oakland while Sheila was getting big and I found it interesting to hear the hometown music scene perspective.
Sheila does touch on a childhood rape but in general, the episode doesn't dig too deep into personal matters.
I did get a good fun fact though: from all her bongo playing, sometimes her hands get so cracked and chafed that she sometimes literally doesn't have fingerprints because the skin on her fingers is worn so thin. That's some serious dedication.
If you get TVOne on your cable system and love VH1's Behind The Music, you should check out Unsung. They have some interesting people lined up and it'd be worth a watch.