Sunday, August 2, 2015

A00498 - Della Reese, "Touched by an Angel" Star

Della Reese (born Delloreese Patricia Early; July 6, 1931),[1] is an American singer, actress, game show panelist of the 1970s, one-time talk-show hostess and ordained minister. She started her career in the 1950s as a gospel, pop and jazz singer, scoring a hit with her 1959 single "Don't You Know?". In the late 1960s, she had hosted her own talk show, Della, which ran for 197 episodes.[2][3] Through four decades of acting, she is best known for playing Tess, the lead role on the 1994–2003 television show Touched by an Angel. In more recent times, she became an ordained New Thought minister in the Understanding Principles for Better Living Church in Los Angeles, California.

Early years[edit]

Della Reese was born Delloreese Patricia Early on July 6, 1931, in the historic Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan, to Nellie (Mitchelle), a Native American cook of the Cherokee tribe, and Richard Thaddeus Early, an African American steelworker.[4][5] Her mother had also had several children before Reese's birth, none of whom lived with her; hence, Reese grew up as an only child.[6] At six years old, Reese began singing in church. From this experience, she became an avid gospel singer. On weekends in the 1940s, she and her mother would go to the movies independently to watch the likes of Joan CrawfordBette Davis, and Lena Horne portray glamorous lives on screen. Afterwards, Reese would act out the scenes from the films. In 1944, she began her career directing the young people's choir, after she had nurtured acting plus her obvious musical talent. She was often chosen, on radio, as a regular singer.[6] At the age of 13, she was hired to sing with Mahalia Jackson's gospel group. Delloreese entered Detroit's popular Cass Technical High School (where she attended the same year as Edna Rae Gillooly, later known as Ellen Burstyn). She also continued with her touring with Jackson. With higher grades, she was the first in her family to graduate from high school in 1947, at only 15.[6]
Afterwards, she formed her own gospel group, the Meditation Singers. However, due in part to the death of her mother, and her father's serious illness, Reese had to interrupt her schooling at Wayne State University to help support her family. Faithful to the memory of her mother, Deloreese also moved out of her father's house when she disapproved of him taking up with a new girlfriend. She then took on odd jobs, such as truck driver, dental receptionist, and even elevator operator, after 1949.[6] Performing in clubs, Early soon decided to shorten her name from "Delloreese Early" to "Della Reese."

Musical career[edit]

Reese in the 1950s
Reese was discovered by the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, and her big break came when she won a contest, which gave her a week to sing at Detroit's well-known Flame Show Bar. Reese remained there for eight weeks. Although her roots were in gospel music, she now was being exposed to and influenced by such famous jazz artists as Ella FitzgeraldSarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday. In 1953, she signed a recording contract with Jubilee Records, for which she recorded six albums. Later that year, she also joined the Hawkins Orchestra. Her first recordings for Jubilee were songs such as "In the Still of the Night" (originally published in 1937), "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" and "Time After Time" (1947). Although the EP did not enter the charts, it sold 500,000 copies, and the songs were later included on the 1959 album And That Reminds Me.
In 1957, Reese released a single called "And That Reminds Me." After years of performing, she gained chart success with this song. It became a Top Twenty Pop hit and a million-seller record. That year, Reese was voted by BillboardCashbox and various other magazines, as "The Most Promising Singer." In 1959, Reese moved to RCA Records and released her first RCA single, called "Don't You Know?," which was adapted fromPuccini's music for La Bohème, specifically, the aria Musetta's Waltz. It became her biggest hit to date, reaching the #2 spot on the Pop charts and topping the R&B charts (then called the "Hot R&B Sides") that year. Eventually, the song came to be widely considered the signature song of her early career. Reese received a Grammy nomination for her 1960 album, Della and then released a successful follow-up single called "Not One Minute More" (#16). She remained on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with the songs "And Now" (#69), "Someday (You'll Want Me to Want You)" (#56) and "The Most Beautiful Words" (#67).
In November 1960, Reese appeared in advertisements in Ebony magazine for the newly launched AMI Continental jukebox. Reese recorded regularly throughout the 1960s, releasing singles and several albums. Two of the most significant were The Classic Della (1962) and Waltz with Me, Della (1963), which broadened her fan base internationally. She recorded several jazz-focused albums, including Della Reese Live (1966), On Strings of Blue (1967) and One of a Kind (1978). She also performed in Las Vegas (Nevada) for nine years and toured across the country. Reese continued to record albums in the following decades, receiving two more Grammy nominations in the gospel category for the album Della Reese and Brilliance (1991) and for the live recorded album, My Soul Feels Better Right Now (1999).[7] Motown singer Martha Reeves cites Reese as a major influence and says she named her group The Vandellas after Van Dyke Street in Detroit and Della Reese.

Television and film career[edit]

In 1969, she began a transition into acting work which would eventually lead to her greatest fame. Her first attempt at television stardom was a talk show series, Della, which was cancelled after 197 episodes (June 9, 1969 – March 13, 1970).[8]
In 1970, Reese became the first black woman to guest host The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. She appeared in several TV movies and miniseries, was a regular on Chico and the Man and played the mother of B. A. Baracus in The A-Team episode "Lease with an Option to Die." In 1991, she starred opposite Redd Foxx in his final sitcom, The Royal Family, but his death halted production of the series for several months. Reese also did voice-over for the late-1980s animated series A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. In 1989, she starred alongside Eddie MurphyRichard Pryor and Arsenio Hall in the theatrical release movie Harlem Nights, in which she performed a fight scene with Eddie Murphy. Reese appeared as a panelist on several episodes of the popular television game show Match Game.

Television guest appearances[edit]

Reese has had a wide variety of guest-starring roles, beginning with an episode of The Mod Squad. This led to other roles in such series as: The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, Getting Together, Police Woman, Petrocelli, Joe Forrester, Police Story, The Rookies, McCloud, Sanford and Son with old friend Redd FoxxVega$, Insight and two episodes of The Love Boat. She also had a recurring role on It Takes Two opposite Richard Crenna and Patty Duke, three episodes of Crazy Like a Fox, four episodes of Charlie & Co. opposite Flip Wilson227 with best friend Marla GibbsMacGyver, Night Court, Dream On, Designing Women, Picket Fences, That's So Raven and The Young and the Restless. She also had a recurring role as Tess, on Promised Land with Wendy Phillips and Gerald McRaney, Sanford and Son: Season 5, Episode 7 "Della, Della, Della" 1975 and among many others.

Touched by an Angel[edit]

After coping with the death of one of her best friends, Redd Foxx, in 1991, she was reluctant to play an older female lead in the inspirational television drama Touched by an Angel, but went ahead and auditioned for the role of "Tess." She wanted to have a one-shot agreement between CBS and producer Martha Williamson, but ordered more episodes. Reese was widely seen as a key component of the show's success. Already starring on Touched by an Angel was the lesser-known Irish actress Roma Downey, who played the role of case worker Tess's angel/employee, Monica. In numerous interviews, there was an on- and off-screen chemistry between both Reese and Downey.
The character of Tess was the angelic supervisor who sent the other angels out on missions to help people redeem their lives and show them God's love, while at the same time, she was sassy and had a no-nonsense attitude. The show often featured a climactic monologue delivered by the angel Monica in which she reveals herself as an angel to a human with the words: "I am an angel sent by God to tell you that He loves you." The character of Tess was portrayed by Reese as down-to-earth, experienced and direct. Reese also sang the show's theme song, "Walk With You," and was featured prominently on the soundtrack album produced in conjunction with the show.
During its first season in 1994, many critics were skeptical about the show, it being the second overtly religious prime-time fantasy series, after Highway to Heaven. The show had a rocky start, low ratings and was cancelled 11 episodes into the first season. However, with the help of a massive letter-writing campaign, the show was resuscitated the following season and became a huge ratings winner for the next seven seasons. At the beginning of the fourth season in 1997, Reese threatened to leave the show because she was making less than her co-stars; CBS ended up raising her salary.[9] Touched by an Angel was cancelled in 2003, but it continued re-running heavily in syndication and on The Hallmark Channel.Roma Downey said of her on- and off-screen relationship with Reese:
"She's very wise. She's very loving. She can be a little gruff at times, but she's always adoring and adorable. I lost my mother when I was very young, and during my whole adolescence and into my twenties, I'd been looking for a mother figure, and I really think I can say with absolute truth and sincerity that I feel that I finally found her in Della Reese."
Downey later also said:
"I think I'll just always remember the feel of her neck against my cheek when she hugs me and the love I know that she has for me and the love that I feel for her and the love that she has for God. To know Della is to know that she loves God."[9]

Personal life[edit]

Reese's mother, Nellie Mitchelle Early, died in 1949 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Reese's father, Richard Early, died ten years later. Reese had an adoptive daughter, Deloreese Daniels Owens, in 1961. Owens died on March 14, 2002, after complications stemming from pituitary disease. Reese said about the painful experience, sharing her frustration with the lack of awareness and knowledge of pituitary disorders,
"When it happened, I thought, 'It's such an odd thing to die from,' because pituitary problems aren't something you hear about. It makes it harder because you don't understand what happened. It seemed so strange and hard to explain. It still is, to be honest."[10]
In 1979, after taping a guest spot for The Tonight Show, she suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm, but made a full recovery after two operations by neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Drake at University Hospital in London, Ontario. In 1983, she married Franklin Thomas Lett, Jr., a concert producer and writer. In 2002, Reese announced on Larry King Live that she had been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. She became a spokeswoman for the American Diabetes Association, traveling around the United States to raise awareness about this disorder. In 2005, Reese was honored by Oprah Winfrey at her Legends Ball ceremony, along with 25 other women of African-American descent.
Reese was ordained as a minister in 2010, after serving as the senior minister and founder of the Understanding Principles for Better Living Church, an independent congregation, which currently meets at First Lutheran Church ( in Inglewood, California.[11] In her ministerial work, she is known as the Rev. Dr. Della Reese Lett.[12]
On July 6, 2011, Reese celebrated her 80th Birthday at the Catalina Jazz Club in Los Angeles, California.[13]


Main article: Della Reese discography



1975Psychic KillerMrs. Gibson
1989Harlem NightsVera
1996A Thin Line Between Love and HateMa Wright
2000DinosaurEema (voice)
2005Beauty ShopMrs. Towner
2007If I Had Known I Was a GeniusNana
2010Expecting MaryDoris Dorkus
2012Meant to BeMave
2012Me AgainMuriel


1968The Mod SquadPaulaEpisode: "Find Tara Chapman!"
1970The Bold Ones: The New DoctorsGrace DaytonEpisode: "Killer on the Loose"
1973Voyage of the YesOpal ParkerTV film
1973Daddy's GirlDianeTV film
1974Twice in a LifetimeFloTV film
1974Police WomanTina ThompsonEpisode: "Requiem for Bored Wives"
1974McCloudPolice Sg.t Gladys HarrisEpisode: "This Must Be the Alamo"
1975PetrocelliAngela DamonEpisode: "Once Upon a Victim"
1975Cop on the BeatClaudineTV film
1975The RookiesLandersEpisode: "Ladies Day"
1975-1978Chico and the ManDella RogersRecurring role (27 episodes)
1976McCloudPolice Sgt. Gladys HarrisEpisode: "The Day New York Turned Blue"
1976Medical CenterCapt. SykesEpisode: "Major Annie, MD"
1976Flo's PlaceFloTV film
1976Nightmare in Badham CountySarahTV film
1979Welcome Back, KotterMrs. TremaineEpisodes: "Come Back, Little Arnold", "The Gang Show"
1980InsightJudge Roberta LynnEpisode: "God in the Dock"
1982The Love BoatMillie Washington2 episodes
1982-1983It Takes TwoJudge Caroline PhillipsRecurring role (5 episodes)
1985The A-TeamMrs. BaracusEpisode: "Lease with an Option to Die"
1985-1986Crazy Like a FoxNurse FloodEpisodes: "Fox Hunt", "Is There a Fox in the House?", "A Fox at the Races"
1986Charlie & Co.Aunt RachelRecurring role (4 episodes)
1986ABC Afterschool SpecialAunt FaithEpisode: "The Gift of Amazing Grace"
1987227RitaEpisode: "Far from the Tree"
1989Night CourtAunt RuthEpisode: "Auntie Maim"
1990227GraceEpisode: "Where Do We Go from Here?"
1990The Young RidersStagecoach SallyEpisode: "Born to Hang"
1990The Kid Who Loved ChristmasAlicia SlaterTV film
1990MacGyverMama ColtonEpisode: "Squeeze Play"
1991MacGyverMama ColtonEpisode: "The Coltons"
1991Married PeopleAnnetteEpisode: "Dance Ten, Friends Zero"
1991-1992The Royal FamilyVictoria RoyalMain role (15 episodes)
1992Dream OnReceptionistEpisode: "No Deposit, No Return"
1992You Must Remember ThisElla DuChamps (voice)TV film
1993Designing WomenMrs. ToussantEpisode: "Wedding Redux"
1993L.A. LawLucille LakeEpisode: "Vindaloo in the Villows"
1993Picket FencesNaomi GrandEpisode: "The Lullaby League"
1994-2003Touched by an AngelTessMain role (211 episodes)
1996-1998Promised LandTessRecurring role (6 episodes)
1997Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every ChildThe Blues Fairy (voice)Episode: "Pinocchio"
1997A Match Made in HeavenKatie BealeTV film
1997Miracle in the WoodsLilly CooperTV film
1998Emma's WishMona WashburnTV film
1998Mama Flora's FamilyNana FlemingTV film
1999The Secret PathHoneyTV film
1999Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 YearsMartha LoganTV film
1999Anya's BellAnya HerpickTV film
2000The Moving of Sophia MylesSophia MylesTV film
2006That's So RavenMiss Rhonnie WilcoxEpisode: "The Four Aces"
2009The Young and the RestlessAunt VirginiaTV series
2010Detroit 1-8-7Lorraine HendersonEpisode: "Shelter"
2011HallelujahDulcie PrejeanTV film
2012Christmas AngelElsie WaybrightTV film
2013Dear Secret SantaLindaTV film
2013Miracle at Gate 213Alma PeddingtonTV film
2014Signed, Sealed, DeliveredCora BrandtEpisodes: "Soulmates", "The Masterpiece"

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 1994: Hollywood Walk of Fame7060 Hollywood Boulevard – Television
  • 1996: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series – Touched by an Angel
  • 1997: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series – Touched by an Angel
  • 1998: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series – Touched by an Angel
  • 1999: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series – Touched by an Angel
  • 2000: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series – Touched by an Angel
  • 2001: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series – Touched by an Angel
  • 2002: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series – Touched by an Angel


Della Reese (born Delloreese Patricia Early) (b. July 6, 1931, Detroit, Michigan), an American singer, actress, game show panelist of the 1970s, one-time talk-show hostess and ordained minister. She started her career in the 1950s as a gospel, pop and jazz singer, scoring a hit with her 1959 single "Don't You Know?". In the late 1960s, she had hosted her own talk show, Della, which ran for 197 episodes. Through four decades of acting, she is best known for playing Tess, the lead role on the 1994–2003 television show Touched by an Angel. In later years, she became an ordained  New Thought minister in the Understanding Principles for Better Living Church in Los Angeles, California.

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