Sheila E. with her father Pete and her brother, Juan Escovedo. Credit: Elevate Oakland

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In early June, Bay Area music legend Sheila E. posted a photo on Twitter of her shoulder-to-shoulder with political activist Angela Davis. The two had teamed up for a peaceful vigil for Black lives hosted by the Greenlining Institute and Brown Folx 4 Black Lives. Both women wore masks and knelt to protest the killing of George Floyd and other Americans at the hands of police officers. 

During the vigil, Davis shared a powerful speech to address racial injustice. “I am here because I want to bear witness to the long history of Black and brown unity,” she said. “I would not be walking free today if not for the valuable contributions of Chicano and Latinx communities five decades ago.”

Oakland-born Sheila E., whose father is Mexican-American and whose mother has Creole and African-American roots, is no stranger to collaborative efforts between Black and brown communities to denounce social injustice. She fondly recalls playing as a child with her father, world-renowned percussionist Pete Escovedo, who also blended his music and his activism. 

“I was growing up in the time when Angela Davis and the Black Panthers were fighting for the same thing,” Sheila E. told the Oaklandside. “My dad and I played at some of their food banks when they were feeding the community.”

Sheila E.’s musical career spans over five decades. She started as a young girl, playing with her father. In the mid-1970s, she played with The George Duke Band. Her musical skills earned her the name “The Queen of Percussion.” Beyond her successful career as a solo artist, she joined forces with artists like Marvin Gaye and Prince. One of her contributions to Latinx music was her work on Gloria Estefan’s 1994 album, Mi Tierra, where she played congas and timbales. A four-time Grammy nominee, her latest is the song Lemon Cake, released on April 17. 

Now, Sheila E. is bringing us the We Stand Together virtual fundraising show on Thursday, July 23, benefitting the Black Lives Matter Global Network, an organization aimed at ending white supremacy and police brutality by building power in local communities. The event will also benefit two local nonprofits, YR Media and Elevate Oakland. Sheila E. is a co-founder of Elevate Oakland along with Yoshi Akiba (who co-founded the legendary local jazz club Yoshi’s), musician Lynn Mabry, and entrepreneur Jason Hofmann.

The virtual benefit show will be airing from the historic Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland, a home for music since 1972. Credit: Elevate Oakland

The virtual show will feature a stellar lineup. Sheila E., her father, and her brother, Juan Escovedo, will perform live from Yoshi’s. In keeping with current health protocols, the only musicians physically performing together will be Freddie Stone, Tony! Toni! Toné!, and Sheila E.’s band. The rest of the lineup—which includes Stevie Wonder, Goapele, and Michael Franti—will join virtually. The show will also feature comedian George Lopez, Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali, and Damian Lillard of the Portland Blazers. 

For Sheila E., keeping the music going, even if virtually, is about helping to hold the country together despite the pandemic. That’s “one of the reasons why raising money and doing a virtual performance is important, not just for our community but for the world,” she said. “Music right now has been our go-to, our saving grace in this pandemic and these times. Music has been healing.”

Sheila E. said mounting this show also allows her to put her musical and creative friendships to use for a good cause, at a time when many local arts and culture institutions are struggling to stay afloat. “This is all new to us, none of us has ever been through this before. We’re trying to create ways to reach the masses and people all over the world,” she said. “Bring some healing, bring awareness, and raise funds for our youth, it’s really important. That’s what the Bay Area’s legacy is about—we lift each other up.”

WE STAND TOGETHER dress and times

What: WE STAND TOGETHER, a virtual show benefitting Black lives in communities everywhere, featuring Sheila E. and more

When: July 23, 7 p.m.

Where: Airing from Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland, CA; Premiering on Sheila E. Facebook Live, Sheila E. YouTube Live and at www.elevateoakland.org/standtogether

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Azucena Rasilla

Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.