Although she’d been playing music all her life — first with her father the percussionist Pete Escovedo and then as part of The George Duke Band and then alongside Prince as a member of his ensemble — Sheila E.’s career changed dramatically in June of 1984 when she released her debut solo album, The Glamorous Life.
The album’s brassy, sassy title track was a global smash, reaching No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October of 1984. 35 years ago today, on August 20, 1984, the track was also enjoying its two week run in the top spot on Dance Club Songs. But while the song — written by Prince and co-produced by him and Sheila E. — was adding funk and swagger to dance floors, the woman who performed it was grappling with the effects of the fame it delivered her.
“I was so famous when ‘Glamorous Life’ came out,”the artist born Sheila Cecilia Escovedo said in a 2014 interview with Time, “and I mean, I couldn’t go into the store, I couldn’t do anything. And that’s a hard place, to be to be that popular. It’s a scary place to be, and it can swallow you up. I could see what these young artists have to go through nowadays. It happened to me, and I know it’s crazy.”
But her displeasure with fame didn’t stop it from coming. “The Glamorous Life” earned three MTV Award nominations for Best Female Video, Best New Artist, and Best Choreography along with a pair of Grammy noms for Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Performance Female. Indeed, E. was a magnetic, multihypenate artist who’s abilities as both a drummer and pop star were on full display in the sing. But such mainstream attention was also changing the way E. was being perceived in the industry.
“I signed as an R&B artist,” she said in the same Time interview, “and when ‘Glamorous Life’ crossed over to pop, it became, ‘Yeah, she was a pop star, not an R&B artist.’… Then I started changing my show, because then it was more about me singing and less playing, and that’s why by my third record I said I don’t want to do this anymore.”
In fact, after the success of E.’s 1985 sophomore album Romance 1600 — which contained another career-defining hit in “A Love Bizarre” — E. switched gears, delivering a self-titled third album incorporating jazz, rock, funk and salsa and other sounds that offered a clearer sense of E.’s interests and influences while also pulling her out of the the glamorous but ultimately unappealing glare of the mainstream spotlight.
“It wasn’t true to who I am,” she told Time of the song and sound that had made her famous in 1984. “Not that I didn’t want to be a pop star or pop music was bad, it was just I wasn’t playing as much and that was the foundation of who I was was a musician. I played percussion and played drums. And the more that I sang and the more I didn’t play, I felt an emptiness and I realized that it just didn’t feel right. So I just walked away from it.”