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Sheila E. times the market

Sheila EWhile many people know the name Sheila E. from her days as the percussionist and musical director for Prince, few people realize how talented and prodigious she really is.

Sheila Escovedo, whose father Pete was a successful musician and bandleader, began playing drums at the age of three and performed in public for the first time when she was five years old, playing conga drums taller than she was by standing on a chair.

Escovedo Sr. wasn't in favor of his daughter being a percussionist, and steered her toward the violin, thinking that would lead to an easier life. Sheila proved more than adept at that instrument and fielded offers for numerous violin scholarships. Along the way, she also excelled at track, breaking school records and training for the Olympics.

But percussion was in her blood, and in the end no amount of discouragement from her father could deter her. Sheila, who never took a lesson in her life, was part of her father's band by the age of 15. By 17 she had recorded two albums with her dad as a duo, and she soon started backing other musical luminaries, including keyboardist George Duke.

Prince discovered Sheila in the early '80s, making her his opening act in 1983, producing her hit debut album "The Glamorous Life" in 1984, and enlisting her as percussionist and musical director from 1986 until 1989.

Since then, she has been an in-demand studio presence, playing with musical royalty such as Herbie Hancock, Lionel Richie, Ringo Starr, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan, Babyface and a host of others.

Bankrate spoke with Sheila about the economic implications of such a varied career.

BANKRATE.COM: You've done so many different types of assignments, as a musical director, studio musician, and bandleader. What was your first financial success?

Shiela E: "The Glamorous Life" album. My first record.

B: Did you become a millionaire from that experience?

SE: Yes.

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B: What are the most profitable gigs for you? Your own albums, or producing and playing with others?

SE: It's a little bit of everything. I'm in the entertainment business, and it's a business first. I can't look at myself as just being a musician -- I wouldn't make as much money. I'm an entertainer, and I'm able to produce and compose and arrange for a lot of different artists as well as myself. I've done things for movies and television, and continue to expand. It's not just being a percussion player, it's continuing to expand, having a business.

B: Is any one of those things a gravy train -- the most money in the shortest period of time?

SE: No, they all pay good.

B: Are your jazz albums as profitable for you?

SE: No.

B: Is that more of a labor of love?

SE: Yeah. I do more labor of love gigs than you would think, but because I enjoy what I do it's not about money. I think I've turned down more money than I'll ever make at this point. I've turned down a lot of money for many reasons -- there are things I just don't believe in, certain situations where I don't want to be around those types of people. This is your life in that you're enjoying yourself, and you don't want it to be stressful. I'm blessed to be able to pick and choose what I want to do.

B: What's the most money you've ever turned down?

SE: When that psychic show came out, and Dionne Warwick had done that show, their people called and approached me to also do one of the shows. And they had a check in their hand: "Here's $500,000, you don't even have to believe in psychics. We just want you to show your face on television and tell people to call in, and within six months you'll have another check for $500,000." And the first thing out of my mouth was, "If you were selling Tupperware, I'd do it because I believe in Tupperware. I don't believe in psychics." It was plain as day. They said, "Are you kidding?" I said, "No, really, if you were selling Tupperware I wouldn't think twice. But you're selling something I don't believe in, and it's not about the money." I wouldn't do it. Situations like that I don't think twice about.

B: How much actual work would have been involved?

SE: Probably just a couple of weeks.

B: What's the best year you ever had financially?

SE: I don't know because it varies. It's never the same. Every year is different. That's part of the entertainment business, the roller coaster ride. It depends how well you prepare yourself for the not-so-busy seasons, or you continue to hustle and make it happen throughout the year.

B: Can you give me an example of one of your best years?

SE: The last few years have been really good. I'll say 2000 and 2001.

B: Do you play the market?

SE: Just a little bit. I have some stock in Apple and some in ... I can't even remember the name anymore. It was, like, grocery.com or something, but it fell through. We're actually getting ready to invest in a couple of things I'll look into when I get back home that financially will be pretty good.

B: Have the tech stocks done well for you?

SE: Very good. I have a few friends who got me in and out at the right time. I know a couple of people who lost a couple of homes and cars, but they're dealing in bigger money than I am.

-- Posted: Nov. 28, 2001

More Fame & Fortune stories
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See Also
Henry Rollins: Radical rock star remains conservative with cash
Go-Go's guitarist Jane Wiedlin
Donny Osmond on the money

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