Peruse the interwebs and social media and you’ll find that one name consistently appears at the top of everyone’s Prince tribute wish list: Sheila E. A date has yet to be announced, but the musician, who performed and co-wrote timeless hits with Prince like “Erotic City,” “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre” (not to mention, The Purple One did ask her to marry him), stated soon after Prince’s passing that she’s spearheading a Minneapolis-based tribute to the late musician and her good friend.
Those of us who made it through Madonna’s sincere though poorly executed/flat/soulless (any and all of these descriptions suffice) rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U” at the Billboard Music Awards wished Sheila E., along with Prince-affiliated or heavily influenced musicians like Morris Day and The Time, The Revolution, New Power Generation members and a host of other artists who were willing or able to perform, graced that stage instead. And while Madonna (and Stevie Wonder) had every right to perform that tribute, which wasn’t the first and won’t be the last to honor an icon whose music touched countless lives, it’s hard to imagine that someone could discredit Sheila E.’s ability to pull off an epic homage of “Housequake proportions.” And yet, Linda Perry tried it.
While guest co-hosting on The Talk, the singer-songwriter (and wife of the show’s regular co-host, Sara Gilbert) had this to say when Sheryl Underwood threw Sheila E.’s name into the Billboard Music Awards’ Prince tribute hat: “In all fairness, Madonna was asked to do this and she was friends with Prince but you also have to think about, it’s really the Billboard Awards. They think about who is hot and popular. They’re not gonna call up Chaka Khan and re-put together The Time and Sheila E. because they’re not relevant right now.”
Hold your tongue, ma’am. Sheila E. and “not relevant” are words that do not belong in the same sentence together. (And don’t even get me started on the disrespect towards the beloved Chaka Khan.) Whether intended or not, Gilbert’s comments were an unacceptable shot at Sheila E.’s impeccable artistry and legacy.
And, I’m sorry, did I miss something? Allow me to be petty for a moment. When did Linda Perry (did you have to Google her? Yeah, me too) become the arbiter of artistic relevancy? Yes, Billboard awards are presented annually to musicians who have produced chart-topping music within a given year, but that has nothing to do with relevancy or personal musical taste, for that matter. Deducing Sheila E., who was a key player in Prince’s camp, as not relevant simply because she’s not on Madonna’s relative level of fame – notoriety is really what Perry was talking about – gives the machine of celebrity a power it doesn’t fully deserve. It’s the music that matters.
To undermine talented, decades-in-the-game artists like Sheila E. who have put in the work and have the fans to prove it just because they aren’t on a certain level of fame or didn’t make the very short list of trending artists within the last year is beyond bogus. By those standards, Prince himself wouldn’t have been deemed “relevant” in recent years, despite the fact that he constantly produced and released music. Much of his library was difficult or impossible to access, however, on streaming mediums like Spotify, iTunes and YouTube, which is how a vast majority of consumers purchase and listen to music nowadays. Yes, Prince was famous beyond measure, but he wasn’t topping the charts as of late, and his popularity wasn’t akin to what it was at the height of his fame in the ’80s and ’90s. Did that make us love his music any less or render him irrelevant? I don’t think so.
Linda Perry’s comments also suggest that music and its respective artists have an expiration date that not even a tribute can reanimate. Apparently, music (and its corresponding creator) can go sour; become the musical equivalent of the Latin language; rendered inaccessible and give you no feels the second a musician steps out of the limelight. Not only that, Perry’s biting words go against the very values and principles that Prince, who aided, trained and learned from musicians and artists in countless other disciplines, many of whom never achieved his level of fame, upheld. Music, not fame, was the name of the game.
So, how did Sheila E. respond to all of this, you ask? After pounding out a fierce, impassioned solo on the timbales in a way that only she can, Sheila E. paused during a recorded performance (see video below) to deliver a poignant statement in response to Linda Perry. She did so without naming names, but I already went ahead and did that for you.
“On behalf of musicians, artists, creators, performers and anyone aspiring to be one of those, YOU ARE RELEVANT! It was exactly that type of attitude and comment, recently conveyed on a talk show by a misinformed guest that Prince, Paisley Park and those who have been an extension of, continually fought, and still fight, against. The creations and the creators, contrary to fleeting popularity or fame, is what breathes life into art. The lack of understanding and myopic view of dollars over sense is what perpetuates the ignorance that continually works against the artist and the industry. I am offended. #RELEVANT.”
Boom. How’s that for not relevant? Keep marching to the beat of your own drum, Sheila.