Born in Oakland, California, Sheila E. is the daughter of Juanita Gardere, a dairy factory worker, and percussionist Pete Escovedo, with whom she frequently performs. Her mother is Creole-French/African mix, and her father is of Mexican origin. Sheila E's uncle is Alejandro Escovedo, and Tito Puente was Escovedo's godfather. She also is niece to Javier Escovedo, founder of seminal San Diego punk act The Zeros. Another uncle, Mario Escovedo, fronted long-running indie rockers The Dragons. She also is the niece of Coke Escovedo, who was in Santana and formed the band Azteca. Nicole Richie is Sheila E.'s biological niece, the daughter of Sheila's musician brother, Peter Michael Escovedo.
Sheila made her recording debut with jazz bassist Alphonso Johnson on "Yesterday's Dream" in 1976. By her early 20s, she had already played with George Duke, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Herbie Hancock, and Diana Ross. In 1977, she joined The George Duke Band. She appeared on several of Duke's albums including: "Don't Let Go" (1978)", "Follow the Rainbow" (1979), "Master of the Game" (1979), "A Brazilian Love Affair" (1980). In 1983, she joined Marvin Gaye's final tour Midnight Love Tour as one of his percussionists.
Prince met Sheila E. at a concert in 1978, when she was performing with her father. After the show he met her and told her that he and his bassist "were just fighting about which one of us would be the first to be your husband." He also vowed that one day she would join his band. The two would eventually join forces during the Purple Rain recording sessions. She provided vocals on the B-side to "Let's Go Crazy", "Erotic City" in 1984. Though taken under Prince's wing, she proved to be a successful artist in her own right.
In June 1984, she released her debut album The Glamorous Life. The album's title-track single "The Glamorous Life" peaked at number 7 the Hot 100 and also topped the dance charts for two weeks in August 1984. The video for the song would bring three MTV Award nominations for Best Female Video, Best New Artist, and Best Choreography. She also received two Grammy Award nominations for Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Performance Female. Her second single "The Belle of St. Mark" charted at number 34 on Billboard Hot 100 and later became NME's "Single of the Week". She also toured as the opening act for Prince's Purple Rain Tour and the duo simultaneously began a brief romantic relationship, while Prince was still seeing Susannah Melvoin, twin sister of The Revolution band member, Wendy Melvoin. They would later become briefly engaged in the late '80s, during Prince's Lovesexy Tour.
In 1985, she released Romance 1600. The lead single "Sister Fate" peaked at number 36 on the R&B charts. The album's second single "A Love Bizarre" became her signature song, peaking at number 11 the Hot 100 and also topped the dance charts. The non-album track "Holly Rock" made its way to live shows and into the film Krush Groove. Sheila later served as Prince's drummer and musical director in his band during the tours from 1987 to 1989. In July 1986, her self-titled album Sheila E. was released. The ballad single "Hold Me" peaked at number 3 on R&B charts. She appeared in four films, Krush Groove with Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J and Blair Underwood in 1985, Prince's concert film, Sign "O" the Times in 1987 The Adventures of Ford Fairlane and Chasing Papi in 2003.
After leaving the Prince organization in 1989, Sheila E. collaborated with writers like Demetrius Ross, recorded and released an album, Sex Cymbal in 1991. The album spawned singles: "Sex Cymbal", "Dropping Like Flies", and "Cry Baby". She began her tour in Japan which only lasted for a brief time. Shortly after returning to America, she developed severe health issues after her lung collapsed. She was left semi-paralyzed from playing drums in heels for long periods of time over a course of past years. Unable to promote and tour, her album Sex Cymbal suffered low sales.
In 1996, she played in Japanese pop singer Namie Amuro's live band. The show at Chiba Marine Stadium was later made available on DVD. In 1998, she played percussion on the Phil Collins cover of "True Colors". She was also the leader of the house band on the short-lived late night talk show, The Magic Hour, hosted by Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. in the late 1990s.
Sheila E. has performed three stints as one of the member "All-Starrs" of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, in 2001, 2003, and 2006. Her drum "duets" with Starr are a moment of comic relief in the show, where they play the same parts but he quickly falls behind, shrugs and smiles as she takes off on an extended percussion solo. Says Sheila E.: "Ringo truly is one of the greatest rock n' roll drummers in the history of music. He enjoys the joke!"
In 2002, Sheila E. appeared on the Beyoncé song "Work It Out". In 2004, Sheila E. toured New Zealand as drummer and percussionist for the Abe Laboriel Band. The same year she also was featured on Tonex's Out the Box on the song "Todos Juntos". She also played drums on Cyndi Lauper's hit album of standard covers, At Last. She played percussion on the song "Stay". Sheila E. joined Lauper on a live version of that song on VH1 Divas.
Sheila also performed at Prince's One Nite Alone... Live! concert, Live at the Aladdin Las Vegas in 2003, 36th NAACP Image Awards in 2005, and on the Good Morning show in June 2006. In 2005, Sheila E. was a surprise guest orchestrating a band, in Amerie's "1 Thing" performances for The Lady Of Soul & World Music Awards.
In February 2006, Sheila E. performed with Prince (and Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman) once again at the BRIT Awards. Sheila E. performed at the Sonoma Jazz Festival in 2006 as part of Herbie Hancock's band featuring Larry Carlton, Terrence Blanchard, Marcus Miller, and Terri Lyne Carrington.
In 2006, Sheila formed a female group C.O.E.D. (Chronicles of Every Diva) consisting of Sheila E., Kat Dyson, Rhonda Smith and Cassandra O'Neal. The group released a single "Waters of Life". In March 2007, the group went on a successful tour in Europe and Japan. The group toured overseas in 2008 and released a CD available in limited distribution or through her website. For several concerts she was joined by Candy Dulfer, who was billed as a special guest. She performed at the 2007 Latin Grammy Awards with Juan Luis Guerra. She also performed at the ALMA (American Latin Music Awards) Awards in June 2007 with Prince, and on July 7, 2007 in Minneapolis with Prince. She performed at all three of his concerts: first, at Prince's 3121 perfume launch at Macy's, followed by the Target Center concert, and finally, at an aftershow at First Avenue. In October 2007, Sheila E. was a judge alongside Australian Idol judge and marketing manager Ian "Dicko" Dickson and Goo Goo Dolls lead singer John Rzeznik on the Fox network's The Next Great American Band.
Sheila E. once again teamed up with Prince in March 2008, as she sat in (and played keyboard) on the performance with her family at Harvelle Redondo Beach. On April 9, 2008, Sheila E. appeared on the Emmy winning program, Idol Gives Back. Sheila E. took part in the show opener "Get on Your Feet" with Gloria Estefan. Dance troupe, So You Think You Can Dance finalists joined them on stage. On April 26, 2008, Sheila E., along with Morris Day and Jerome Benton, performed with Prince at the Coachella Music Festival. From May 2 to 6, 2008, Sheila E. played four sold-out shows at Blue Note Tokyo, the most frequented jazz music club in Tokyo, Japan.
On June 14, 2008, Sheila E. performed at the Rhythm on the Vine music and wine festival at the South Coast Winery in Temecula, California for Shriners Hospital for Children. She took the stage with the E Family, Pete Escovedo, Juan Escovedo and Peter Michael Escovedo. Other performers at the event were jazz musician Herbie Hancock, contemporary music artist Jim Brickman and Kirk Whalum.
On May 30, 2009, Sheila E. and the E Family Band performed at Rhythm on the Vine at Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez, California for the Hot Latin Beats concert. Also performing at the concert was Poncho Sanchez. On December 13, 2009, Sheila E. performed at the Deryck Walcott produced Christmas Jazz held at the Plantation Restaurant in Barbados.
In 2009, Sheila E. participated and won the CMT reality show, Gone Country. This gave her an opportunity to make country music aided by the country producer, writer, and singer John Rich. Sheila E.'s first song in the country market was "Glorious Train". A video for the song debuted on CMT on March 7, 2009, following the airing of the episode of Gone Country in which Sheila E. was announced the winner.
Sheila E. performed two shows at Yoshi's in San Francisco on August 15, 2010. At her merchandise stand she sold an EP From E 2 U. It includes a song "Leader of the Band" written by Prince (uncredited, but confirmed by Sheila E.) and it features Prince on piano according to the song's introduction, where he is called by name. She toured on his 20Ten Tour and Welcome 2 America tours. In 2010, Sheila E joined forces with Avon as a celebrity judge for Avon Voices, Avon's first global, online singing talent search for women and songwriting competition for men and women. On May 25, 2011, Sheila performed alongside Marc Anthony on the tenth season finale of American Idol. On June 7, 2011, she performed on the Late Show with David Letterman as a part of the show's first "Drum Solo Week". In September 2011, The E. Family consisting of Pete Escovedo, Peter Michael Escovedo III, Juan Escovedo, and Sheila released an album Now & Forever. The album spawned the singles "Do What It Do" and "I Like It".
On February 26, 2012, Sheila performed at the 2012 Academy Awards alongside Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer, playing the into and out of commercial segments. On April 17, 2012, Sheila was featured with "Macy's Stars of Dance" on the Dancing with the Stars results show. On June 16, Sheila headlined the 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California. Sheila toured in 2012 alongside Sy Smith throughout Europe and the United States. Sheila joined Dave Koz on his 2012 Christmas Tour.
In 2013, Sheila began recording her seventh album. In November 2013, she released her album Icon in the UK. The album was also Sheila's first release of her own recording label Stilettoflats Music. In September 2014, she released her autobiography Beat of my Own Drum. In November 2014, her album Icon was internationally released.
In 2016, Sheila provided drums for Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL's orchestral soundtrack to the blockbuster superhero films Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
On June 26, 2016, Sheila and The New Power Generation led a tribute to Prince on the 2016 BET Awards, featuring a medley of his hits. The next day, she released a new song, "Girl Meets Boy," in honor of Prince.
In February 2009 she was made an honorary member of Tau Beta Sigma National Honorary Band Sorority by the Eta Delta Chapter located at Howard University in recognition of her humanitarian efforts through and in music.