There was no one better equipped to serve as a musical director for a special Prince tribute concert than Sheila E., who has a place in his legacy for everything from her Prince-helmed 1984 smash “The Glamorous Life” to, later in their careers, simply serving as his drummer.
“Let’s Go Crazy: The Grammy Salute to Prince” featured a lineup that included John Legend, Chris Martin, Gary Clark Jr., Beck and Common. Sheila E. was joined by co-musical directors Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in putting the bands and arrangements together as stars celebrated the music icon.
The special scored an outstanding music direction Emmy nomination. Sheila E. spoke to Variety about what it means and how she still has good days and bad days when it comes to loss.
What did it mean to you, as a keeper of Prince’s flame, to be honored like that?
Since his passing, we have our good days and our bad days. It’s still very emotional. The Academy recognizes him and what he’s left us. This nomination is not just for me; it’s for him and for the fans. He truly did whatever he needed to do to make the fans happy. He gave his life for his fans.
What was the collaboration process in bringing this all together, from picking songs to deciding on the arrangements?
When I spoke to the artists, I asked them what song they wanted to do. Part of putting it together was figuring out what’s best for the artists so that they were comfortable in believing that they could do this, because Prince’s music is not easy at all. We went to each artist saying, “We are not trying to replace him. No one can.”
In the end, it was a culmination of different arrangements that I pulled from rehearsals. I had old tapes. I pulled material from the vault — rehearsals and sound checks that I would present to the artist and work with them to see what they thought of certain arrangements.
Was there anything in particular that triggered emotional moments for you?
I didn’t think about it at first, but Gary Clark Jr. asked me to play drums with him doing “The Cross,” and when we started to play it, I got emotional, because I didn’t realize that it was the first time playing that song with anyone else other than Prince. I haven’t played that song since the Sign O’ the Times Tour.
The second trigger was John Legend coming in. I had sent him the arrangement of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and we had discussed some things. He came in and we ran through the song. John sang his butt off, and sang so well that I broke down crying. That was the first time I broke down crying during rehearsal.
How did you decide upon performing “America?”
I wanted to do “America” because I felt that all of those songs were still relevant. I thought that song says something and it’s a statement.
You also performed your hit “Glamorous Life” as part of the tribute. What is the story behind that?
We chose that based on my connection. That was my tribute to him. We worked on the whole “Glamorous Life” record and it was at a changing point in my career. That song changed my life and I think it was appropriate for that tribute.