Della Reese Biography

(Known for Her 1959 Hit Single 'Don't You Know?' and Her Role in the TV Series 'Touched by an Angel')

Birthday: July 6, 1931 (Cancer)

Born In: Black Bottom, Detroit, United States

Della Reese was an American singer, actress, as well as an ordained minister. She is remembered for her memorable jazz and gospel singing. Della started her career at an early age as a singer, and during the late 1960s, she started acting as well and became one of the most popular television personalities in the ensuing years. Reese was known for her gospel and jazz music and she released 18 studio albums during her extensive career. Some of her top hit singles like ‘And That Reminds Me’ and ‘Don't You Know?’ featured in the US Top 100 and US Cashbox charts. She was nominated for the Grammy Award thrice in her career. As an actress, she was much acclaimed for her role of ‘Tess’ in the American supernatural drama television series ‘Touched by an Angel’ that ran on CBS between 1994 and 2003. She also appeared in several other television films and shows in her illustrious career, including the likes of ‘Harlem Nights’, ‘A Thin Line Between Love and Hate’, ‘Nightmare in Badham County ‘, ‘Chico and the Man’, and ‘If I Had Known I Was a Genius.’

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Delloreese Patricia Early

Died At Age: 86


Spouse/Ex-: Franklin Lett (m. 1983–2017), Leroy Gray (m. 1959–1961), Vermont Taliaferro (m. 1951–1958)

Born Country: United States

African American Singers Actresses

Died on: November 19, 2017

place of death: Encino, Los Angeles, California, United States

U.S. State: Michigan

Notable Alumni: Wayne State University

More Facts

education: Wayne State University

Childhood & Early Life
Delloreese Patricia Early, professionally known as Della Reese, was born in Detroit, Michigan on July 6, 1931 to Richard Thaddeus Early, a steelworker by profession, and Nellie, a professional cook. Reese was not the only child of her parents; however, she grew up alone as none of her siblings lived with them.
She was taken to the church regularly by her mother and she started singing there. This built the foundation for her career as an avid gospel singer in future.
When she was just 13 years of age, she received an offer from Mahalia Jackson to join her gospel group which she readily accepted.
She attended the Cass Technical High School, from where she graduated with great marks in 1947, at the age of just 15.
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Career in Music
Delloreese Patricia started her own gospel group but when her mother died and a personal feud with her father occurred, she moved out of her father’s house and took up various odd jobs including driving trucks, operating elevators, as well as working as a dental receptionist.
In 1949, at the age of just eighteen, she started performing in clubs and soon realized her lengthy name was not very marketable. To make it short and more acceptable in the circuit, she changed it to ‘Della Reese’.
Soon she entered and won a talent show and was offered a chance to sing at Detroit's well-known Flame Show Bar for a week; however, she remained there for eight long weeks. During that time, she came in touch with several popular jazz musicians like Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald, and despite being a gospel singer she grew interested in jazz.
Reese signed a contract with Jubilee Records in 1953, and with them, she recorded six studio albums. She was also associated with other companies like ' RCA Victor’ and ‘Spiritual Icon’.
Between 1957 and 2006, she recorded eighteen studio albums including ‘Melancholy Baby’, Amen!’, ‘And That Reminds Me’, ‘What Do You Know About Love?’, ‘The Story of the Blues’, ‘Della’, ‘Della by Starlight’, ‘Special Delivery’, ‘Della Della Cha-Cha-Cha’, ‘The Classic Della’, ‘Waltz with Me’, ‘Moody’, ‘C'mon and Hear’, and ‘I Like It Like Dat!’
Acting Career
By the end of the 1960s, Della Reese had already become a popular personality in the American entertainment industry. She shifted her focus to acting and started hosting her own show ‘Della’. It ran for 197 episodes between June 9, 1969 and March 13, 1970, before being canceled.
She went on to appear in several popular television shows and became the first African-American woman to appear in the ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’.
She acted in numerous television films including ‘Twice in a Lifetime’, ‘Nightmare in Badham County’, ‘You Must Remember This’, ‘A Match Made in Heaven’, ‘’ Emma's Wish’, ‘Mama Flora's Family’, ‘Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years’, ‘Anya's Bell’, ‘The Moving of Sophia Myles’, and ‘Dear Secret Santa’.
Between 1968 and 2014, Reese appeared in numerous television series. Her popular works on television include ‘The Bold Ones: The New Doctors’, ‘Police Woman’, ‘McCloud’, ‘The Rookies’,’ Chico and the Man’ (regular cast), ‘The Love Boat ‘, ‘It Takes Two ‘, ‘The A-Team’, ‘Crazy Like a Fox’, ‘Charlie & Co.’, ‘The Royal Family’ (lead cast), ‘Touched by an Angel’ (lead role), ‘Promised Land’, and ‘The Young and the Restless’.
Major Works
One of Della Reese’s very first singles, the title song of the album ‘And That Reminds Me’ became one of her biggest hits. It reached the number 9 spot on the weekly Billboard chart and number 16 on the Cashbox in 1957. The song became her biggest commercial hit so far, and the album received a Gold Certificate from the RIAA.
In 1991, she lost her long-term fried Redd Foxx, and was not very sure of taking up any new TV projects. However, she took the role of ‘Tess’ in ‘Touched by an Angel’, an American supernatural drama television series created by John Masius. The show ran on CBS between September 21, 1994 and April 27, 2003 for a total of 211 episodes. Her character became very popular among the audiences and the show became a huge hit.
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Awards & Achievements
Della Reese won seven Image Awards for ‘Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series’ between 1996 and 2002 for her outstanding work in ‘Touched by an Angel’.
She was nominated three times for the Grammy Awards and also earned nominations for the ‘Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series’ and ‘Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series’ for her work in ‘Touched by an Angel’.
In 1994, she was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame: 7060 Hollywood Boulevard.
Personal Life
Della Reese married Vermont Adolphus Bon Taliaferro, a factory worker, in 1952. It was the first of her three marriages. It ended in a divorce seven years later. She then married Leroy Basil Gray, an accountant by profession who had a child from his previous marriage. However, this one also ended in a divorce in 1961.
Her last marriage was with Franklin Thomas Lett Jr., a concert producer and writer, on 12th January 1983. They remained married until her death in 2017. The couple had three children together, James, Franklin, and Dominique. Reese also had one adopted daughter, Deloreese Daniels Owens.
Reese suffered a brain aneurysm in 1979 and recovered after having two surgeries by neurosurgeon Charles Drake at the University Hospital. She had several health issues including Type 2 diabetes which was believed to have been caused by her habit of eating nightly snacks of fried chicken, ice cream, potato chips, and candy bars during her early years in the industry. She died on November 19, 2017, at her house in Los Angeles, California and was survived by her husband Franklin Lett and three sons.
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