Queen of Percussion Sheila E. brings the beat to MotorCity Casino

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News
Grammy-nominated singer and percussionist Sheila E. is in Detroit Thursday.

Percussionist Sheila E., a pioneering entertainer and one of the few women drummers in mainstream music in the 1980s, says her career began in Detroit. 

Her single “Glamorous Life” was just a few months old when she arrived in town to kick off Prince’s “Purple Rain” tour, which started with seven dates at Joe Louis Arena in the fall of 1984. Describing it as a “hectic, scary, fulfilling” experience, she remembers having a shaky start when, during one of her opening-set performances, the stage juice cut out on her. 

“The power went out, and I was performing and the audience started booing me and there was nothing I could do," she said. "And it was Detroit and I’m like ‘oh, my god, this is a great way to start the tour.’”

She remembers it taking about 20 minutes for the power to go back on, and headliner and mentor Prince told her she didn't have to return to the stage, but she knew she had to win the audience back. 

"I went out there and it was the beginning of 'I know what I need to do to win an audience,'" she said. "You just don't give up. And the second or third night or something my voice went out so I lost my voice but I pushed through it and I said 'man, Detroit is rough.' 

"But when you get them, they love you," she said. "I love Detroit, it started my career, that's how I really feel." 

Thursday night Sheila E. will perform at the Sound Board at MotorCity Casino Hotel, and should have a much easier time winning over her audience. 

Sheila E. performs a tribute to Prince at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Sunday, June 26, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

These days the Queen of Percussion is still touring the traditional way, but is also mixing it up with vacation cruise shows and residencies at resorts. 

“I love cruising; my first ever ‘Glamorous Life’ cruise I rented the entire ship and that was pretty intense and I think it was the most fun I’ve ever had on a cruise.” 

She’s also part of an 1980s music cruise and will host her own island getaway in March. "The Glamorous Life Island Escape" is March 14-20 at the Grand Palladium Resort in Cancun, Mexico. 

Sheila E. says the cruises and resorts are a good alternative to the grind of touring and a great way to interact with fans. 

“We have a bunch of people performing, activities, games, a women’s retreat, spa time together, the men have the man cave thing happening,” she said. “It’s really going to be sweet. We’re going to have a Latin tribute to Michael Jackson and we’ll play some Prince music as well.” 

As one of the few women drummers and percussionists who have had a long career in the spotlight, Sheila E. is often sought for advice and mentoring. She is also the daughter of Latin jazz legend percussionist Pete Escovedo. 

Sheila E. participates in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss her new album, “Iconic: Message 4 America” in New York.

"I love to share and mentor young people ... people want to know how I got started, what did I do," she said. 

Blending Latin, pop, rock, funk and R&B, Sheila E. (born Sheila Escovedo) says her live show is "energetic and exciting." 

"We basically take you on a journey," she said. "it's upbeat and you laugh, you cry ... a lot of dancing and audience participation, for sure." 


Twitter: @melodybaetens

Sheila E.

8 p.m. Thurs.

Sound Board at MotorCity Casino Hotel

2901 Grand River, Detroit

(313) 309-4700