The first lady of Paisley Park, Sheila E., and her opening act R&B singer Bilal tore the roof off the Byham Theater when they converged in the Steel City during the third leg of the Celebration Tour.
“The show will feature up beat, exciting and fun songs that people know and some songs they don’t know,” said Sheila E., in an Aug. 16 interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier.
“We always have an exciting time and people will not walk away disappointed.”
And the Pittsburgh audience certainly didn’t.
“The goal is to light the place up purple,” said Hill District resident Jeralyn Smith. “I’m looking for her to do a great dedication to Prince. We’ve seen so much dedicated to him on television and it’s cool to have this in our own city. Sheila comes from a line of great entertainers.”
Born Sheila Cecelia Escovedo in 1957 in Oakland, Calif, Sheila E. wasn’t always the glamorous superstar we know today. From an early age, though, she knew one thing: she loved music. This love fueled her childhood and adolescent endeavors—from performing with her dad at the age of 5, to playing percussion in a local band in high school, to touring worldwide. Over the years, Sheila E. became a household name as a singer-songwriter, entertainer and icon. She became not just one of the best female drummers, but one of the best drummers of all time. For Sheila E., her career has never been about making money or becoming famous. It’s been about passion—about the butterflies she feels every time she picks up a drumstick or steps in front of a microphone. “I realized that the day the butterflies are gone is the day I’ll stop playing,” Sheila E. writes in her memoir.
A musical powerhouse, Sheila E. has worked with some of the most influential musical acts over the past five decades: Ringo Starr, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Beyoncé, Herbie Hancock, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Gloria Estefan, George Duke, and more. She’s recorded seven solo albums, acted in several films and pursued philanthropic projects that are near to her heart. These include co-founding the Elevate Hope Foundation and Elevate Oakland.
“I want to change people’s lives so they can move on with their lives and become what they were meant to become,” she said.
The Celebration Tour, which was presented by the Community Empowerment Association, and sponsored by Savoy Restaurant and A For the People Insurance, opened with Grammy-nominated R&B singer Bilal, who performed many of his own hits including “My Type of Girl,” Soul Sista,” and an amazing cover of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones,” which he recently performed at the 2016 BET Awards to critical acclaim and received a standing ovation from Pittsburgh concert goers.
“I didn’t know much about Bilal,” said Smith “But tonight’s performance made me want to explore him and get to know more about him.”
Bilal was born Bilal Sayeed Oliver in Philadelphia. The 37-year-old classically trained neo-soul singer can sing opera in seven languages. His interest in music was nurtured by his father who took him to clubs throughout the Philly area. He attended New York’s New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music where he received training in voice, Jazz and big-band arrangement. The public first heard his voice on Grenique’s 1999 release, “Black Butterfly” on which he contributed to three songs. In 2000, Bilal appeared on rapper Common’s classic album, “Like Water for Chocolate” and Guru’s third solo effort, “Jazzmatazz.” Bilal’s first solo record, “1st Born Second” featured collaborations with Mike City, Robert Glasper and others. One of the three singles released, “Soul Sista” peaked at the no. 18 spot on the R&B singles charts.
His second solo record, “Love for Sale,” was leaked online before its Interscope release, which led to him being released from the record label, but his fan following grew. Nine years passed before he released “Alright’s Revenge” on the Plug Research label. It’s song “Little One” was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2011. In 2013, he released “A Love Surreal” on eOne Records and, in 2015, he released “In Another Life,” which featured collaborations with multi-instrumentalist and producer Adrian Younge. But it was his heart-pounding performance of Prince’s classic, “The Beautiful Ones,” at the 2016 BET Awards that made audiences sit up and take notice.
Pittsburgh had high expectations from Sheila E. who first met Prince 38 years ago during a backstage encounter. Sheila E., who was a famous percussionist in her own right, was performing and Prince came back stage to meet her. The sexy singer asked Sheila E. to lend her vocals to his raunchy “Erotic City” song, thus launching her solo career. The pair’s relationship would span three decades, include an engagement between the two and end in an amazing friendship when Prince died suddenly on April 21.
“When I met him backstage at the show, I was already famous in my own right,” said the avid sports enthusiast who just returned from the Rio Olympic games. “I was excited to meet him. He started hanging out with me and my family and we introduced him to Latin rhythms and beats and things he hadn’t heard before and things just developed from there.”
Sheila E. paid homage to her friend in numerous ways during the Pittsburgh stop on the tour. Dressed in white pants, white coat and white shirt blazoned with Prince’s signature unpronounceable symbol, she performed many mash-ups of Prince’s hits including “Raspberry Beret,” “Baby I’m a Star,: “America” “You Got the Look” and “17 Days.”
“I’m a huge fan of Prince and Sheila E,” explained Penn Hills resident Jeanine White who attended the concert with her husband, Gerald. “I could not miss Sheila E she is the closest I could get to Prince. It was definitely worth coming out.”
Gerald White echoed his wife’s sentiments.
“We are generational old school and we like to go out and do things together,” he said. “This was a great experience and it’s good to be out and experience such good music, which brings people together.”
The Pittsburgh audience received a treat when original member of Prince’s bands the Revolution and Madhouse, Eric Leeds—who lives in Pittsburgh—was in the audience and brought on stage.
“This crowd knows Prince. Sheila (E.) is doing some great music and doing Prince right tonight. He would be proud,” said Leeds to thunderous applause and cheers.
Like Bilal, she repeated her BET Awards performance of the haunting “Purple Rain” while wiping away tears. There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience either. She then performed her latest single, “Girl Meets Boy,” which she gifted to the audience by telling them to go to her website, Sheilae.com to download for free.
“Girl Meets Boy” was a song that I wrote a month after Prince passed away and we were going to promote it, but we pulled production on it because I couldn’t stop crying. The morning after the BET Awards I released it so people could hear it,” she said.
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