The Current

Drummer Sheila E. encourages female musicians to keep smashing taboos

Legendary drummer Sheila E. had to fight for recognition throughout her career. She advises other young and aspiring female musicians to be confident, despite obstacles like sexism and harassment that can still be found in the industry.

'It's okay to be better than the guys,' the legendary percussionist advises

Sheila E. performs at Canalside, July 31, 2014, in Buffalo, N.Y. (The Buffalo News, Harry Scull Jr./AP)

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Sheila E., the iconic drummer who was a longtime collaborator with Prince, remembers many hateful and inappropriate comments from people in the music business who she says were intimidated by the fact that she's a woman.

"They would say awful things to me. They would say: 'you're just here because you know the artist, you're not really that good, you're not going to make it," she told The Current's guest host Laura Lynch.

She also recalled a lot of sexually inappropriate behaviour as well, including people propositioning her to come up to their rooms in exchange for a promise of career advancement.

"People said 'I can get you a career, I can get you a record deal if you have sex with me,' she recalls.

"It was insane."

10 women who rock the drums

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      Sheila E., born Sheila Escovedo, grew up as part of a musical family Oakland, Calif. Picking up the drums seemed to come naturally to her. She started drumming when she was 14 years old.

      She often played, and still plays, with her father — percussionist Pete Escovedo‌, who was a member of Carlos Santana's band — and her two brothers, who are also musicians.

      "My parents never said to me, 'You're a girl, you can't play,'" she said.

      Things changed when she started to work professionally in Los Angeles. "That's when I noticed I was different," she recalled.

      In those early says, she recalls other drummers being "hateful" toward her.

      She never let those barriers stop her, however. She's since become a legendary figure among drummers and percussionists, working with artists like Gloria Estefan, Lionel Richie and Prince.

      Female drummers breaking taboos

      That perseverance is also the idea behind the Hit Like a Girl music competition, where girls and women from around the world show off their drumming skills.

      Recently, a video of eight-year-old Japanese contestant Yoyoka Soma, rocking out to Led Zeppelin's song Good Times, Bad Times went viral online.

      "When I start drumming, it's almost like I'm a part of the music as well … as if I'm entering with it," said 14-year-old Jillian Van Daalen of Tillsonburg, Ont., one of this year's Canadian contestants.

      She said she loves how drumming connects her with the music.

      "I just like hitting things, and making it sound really good is just really fun," she said.

      Sheila E. is encouraged by all the young women who are out there drumming now, like Van Daalen and her fellow contestants.

      "Growing up for me the only drummer that I knew of, and the first time I saw a woman playing was Karen Carpenter," she told Lynch.

      Her advice to them: "It's okay to be better than the guys, sometimes. The key is to really go out there with confidence, be prepared, be yourself."

      Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

      Written by Alison Masemann. This segment was produced by The Current's Alison Masemann and Kristin Nelson.


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