Sheila E. Opens Up About Her Emotional 2016 BET Awards Tribute to Prince
The most emotionally-charged moment during the 2016 BET Awards' multi-performance tribute to Prince was Sheila E.'s fiery closing medley. Blasting through a collection of iconic cuts like "The Glamorous Life" and "U Got the Look," the late artist's protege and onetime fiancee gave The Purple One a loving, celebratory send-off like no other could.
Speaking to Billboard after the kinetic performance, Sheila recounted how emotions were high when she and the artist's former New Power Generation band-mates, backup singers and dancers reunited during rehearsals.
"I knew we were going to sit there and cry, and that’s exactly what happened," she said. "So I said let’s just play first and we started jamming... It wasn't about us taking a bow. This was for him."
The jam session also resulted in a "funky" new song that the singer-musician plans to feature on her forthcoming album Girl Meets Boy, due later this year.
Read Sheila's full statement below on how the BET Awards performance came to fruition, how it differed from initial plans and how the artist still hasn't found closure following her former lover's April 21 passing:
The first group of tribute songs I had selected were based on who was going to be in the band and who I could feature; people like Chaka Khan, Larry Graham, Morris Day & the Time or the Revolution. All of that was in play initially.
When I put out the ask, not everyone was available to do it or felt they weren’t ready. I understood everyone’s position and respected it because I almost felt the same way.
Then I asked who else was doing the show and was told D’Angelo, Janelle Monae and Stevie Wonder. I thought that would be cool if they did a song with me as well. At one point, I wanted Stevie to sing “U Got the Look” to Janelle. But then everyone decided to do their own thing. And I have no idea what happened with D’Angelo. So I called in not just my band but members of the New Power Generation including keyboardist Morris Hayes. I also called backup singers Shelby Johnson, Liv Warield, Lynn Mabry and Elisa Fiorello plus dancers Mayte [Garcia, Prince’s ex-wife] and the twins (sisters Maya and Nandy McClean). Jerome Benton (The Time) came in at the last minute on Thursday.
I chose songs I was already doing in my shows that Prince and I had collaborated on and written together. I also thought I should start off on the drums with 'Housequake' because I knew everybody would appreciate that song. Then the rest of the order came naturally. When I showed BET my list, there were two songs we agreed on: 'Housequake' and 'Erotic City. They wanted me to end with 'Glamorous Life,' but I said absolutely not.
That's because I wanted to build up to end with 'Baby I’m a Star' or 'America' because that’s how we used to do it everyone on stage. I did have the Time’s 'Cool' because they were trying to get Morris Day. I thought we should do that because it’s a big audience participation song. But I was already at almost eight minutes and they had given me seven.
We had a total of about 2 ½ days of rehearsal, Friday was camera blocking and we played Sunday. There wasn’t a lot of time to put everything together. I was trying to find videos to help us remember the dances we used to do. That’s also why I got the twins as there were some things we’d done that were already choreographed.
I knew it was going to be very emotional on the first day of rehearsal. We were sound checking all of the instruments, which takes about two-three hours for setup. By the time we all got together, I said a prayer and then I knew we were going to sit there and cry. It took about 45 minutes to an hour for us to pull it together.
It was the first time we’d been together as a family since all this happened. Everyone is still in disbelief; there’s been no closure yet. Saying goodbye to him just hasn’t happened yet. It’s hard.
Emotionally, people don’t really understand what this means to us and how it’s affected us. Someone showed me a T-shirt today that said something like 'It’s a Prince thing.' You had to be in the family to really get it. This process has been draining, fulfilling and healing.
Prince's 10 Infamous Lovers/Friends/Something-You'll-Never-Comprehends: