Sheila E Pulls Off One ‘Relevant’ Purple Party Tribute to Prince at BET Awards

Posted June 29, 2016 by J Matthew Cobb in HiDef

We all want a love bizarre: Sheila E brings down the house with epic tribute to Prince

I’ve always felt that the best type of music out should take you somewhere spiritual. That it should feel like an ethereal experience. So if one is assigned the job to perform an authentic tribute to an artist that usually take you to such a place, they should have the same objective on their agenda.

After Madonna executed a lightweight, ho-hum “Nothing Compares 2 U/Purple Rain” tribute to the music legend of Prince, who died unexpectedly on April 21 at the age of 57, many – like myself – felt duped. Madonna is the long-reigning, undisputed queen of pop and one of the only living superstars of Prince’s era to be summoned to such a challenge. But Madonna’s strong hand isn’t the ballad or the slow cooker. No, it’s when she’s rowdy, ambitiously sexual and working up a hearty sing-a-long where Madonna shines the brightest. It didn’t happen at the Billboard Music Awards.

BET immediately released a promo for their award show, a bet to the public that they would deliver the goods. Months later, names started circulating about who would be performing in the all-star lineup of tributes. D’Angelo (who failed to appear) was one of the first names to be mentioned. Others to follow included Erykah Badu, Bilal, Janelle Monae, Jennifer Hudson, Maxwell, the Roots, Stevie Wonder and many others.

And then there was the disturbing commentary coming from Linda Perry who felt that a lineup consisting of Prince protégés would be deemed too insignificant for the average viewer. Her words: She called Sheila E, Chaka Khan, Larry Graham and those of that pedigree of Purpleness “not relevant.”

Oh, why did homegirl say that? Well, the legendary percussionist, a longstanding musical partner with Prince, had the ultimate clap back by issuing a ballsy “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” mantra to a world of under-the-radar and independent artists who are tired of being typecasted by the elite media of not being worthy enough for prime time. “The lack of understanding and myopic view of dollars over sense is what perpetuates the ignorance that continually works against the artists and the industry,” she read loudly and proudly during a live concert. “As an artist, I am offended.”

BET gave Sheila the stage to perform a medley of songs in dedication to Prince’s memory. And in that moment of time, she summoned to the stage a powerhouse unit that felt like a rainbow children reunion of Paisley Park. There was mirror-carrying Jerome Benton, Prince’s dancing ex-fiance Mayte Garcia, Prince new-gen disciple Liv Warfield and a strong ensemble featuring members of the New Power Generation.

I personally didn’t need to see the others sing tribute to Prince. I probably will, but it really doesn’t matter to me. They weren’t cut from the same tree as Prince. They aren’t exactly a part of his genealogy. What they’ve done over the years, I’m sure, were inspirations of Prince. And maybe their own musical synergy may bear some resemblance to Prince’s work. But to be inspired by Prince is one thing. To be cut from the same cloth of Prince and to actually be one of Prince’s disciples is another.

Let’s consider this illustration. Who would you rather lean on for a trusted, valiant homage to Jesus. Saint Paul or TD Jakes? You get the point.

Sheila E isn’t a grand vocalist, and is far from being capable of pulling off some of Prince’s mightiest works, so the selections she opted for actually fit her style and execution. Wise judgement on her part.

She opened up her eight-minute set with a funky exercise of “Housequake” and then swayed into Prince’s B-side of “I Would Die 4 U,” the splashy “Erotic City.” With a bold splash of funk still on the menu, Sheila made a grand leap into “U Got the Look” and her familiar Prince-guested hits (“A Love Bizarre,” “The Glamorous Life”), all powered with soulful backing vocals and hefty horns by the NPG Hornz.

With the crowd magnetically helmed to the music and standing on all their feet, Shelia dropped powerful Latin percussion solos, all reminiscent of her musical heritage, right before jumping into the high-octane “America” and “Baby, I’m a Star.” Right before the last note is played, before the entre cast unites for a cinematic pose with Prince’s glyph guitar raised in air, she executes a killer homerun slide on the crowd tarmac.

She clearly seemed to have been drained vocally by this point, groggy on parts and squealing out heavy ad-lib chants. But those shortcomings hardly mattered: the energy, the stage presence, the knowledge of funk and the wherewithal of executing it with a skilled family affair was all Shelia needed. She gave the BET Awards a taste of stellar live entertainment, all done with Prince-esque drama.

In the end, there was no Morris Day & the Time, no Jimmy Jam or Terry Lewis, no reformation of The Revolution. Which pretty sucks.

Mark my words: there will be many more tributes to come, but very few will touch this level of stamina and performance.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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