Veteran Entertainer Della Reese Dies

Entertainer Della Reese died November 19 in her California home at the age of 86. While no official cause of death was given, Reese had been dealing with some health issues in recent years.

DellaReeseJuly09Angela George [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Reese is best known for her role as Tess on the hit television drama “Touched by an Angel” – a role that earned her the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Image Award seven years in a row – but her entertainment career began long before that.

She was born Dellareese Patricia Early on July 6, 1931 in Detroit, Michigan the only child to an African American father and a Native American mother – her mother was a member of the Cherokee Nation. Young Della began were musical career when she was only six years old in the church. When Della was 13 she got a job singing with Mahalia Jackson. And at 15 became the first member of her family to graduate from high school.

Della_Reese_1961By General Artists Corporation-management/photographer-Maurice Seymour, New York. – eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22732556

After winning a contest, Della turned a one week gig at the Flame Show Bar in Detroit into an eight week engagement.

Signing with Jubilee Records in 1953, she charted her first big hit in 1957 -“And That Reminds Me” – with The Honey Dreamers. She also had hits with “Don’t You Know” and “Not One Minute More”.

Also having an interest in acting, Reese turned her attention toward film and television in the seventies, making her debut in 1968 in an episode of “Mod Squad”. She went on to appear in nearly six dozen productions including “Police Woman”, “Medical Center”, 27 episodes of “Chico and the Man”, “Welcome Back Kotter”, “The Love Boat”, “The A-Team”, “Night Court”, 15 episodes of “The Royal Family”, “Promised Land”, 211 episodes of “Touched by an Angel”, “The Young and the Restless”, and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”.

While she is best known for her role on “Touched by an Angel”, one of Reese’s most memorable roles was that of Mama Colton on two episodes of “MacGyver” where she ruled the roost as Mama for three bounty hunting sons and networking genius extraordinaire. In one episode – “The Coltons” – Mama admonished two policemen to pick up the trash her boys just threw out for them.

As herself she appeared in over 100 productions of variety shows, late night and daytime talk shows, her own talk show, “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”, game shows, documentaries and awards shows.

Reese saw her music appear in a handful of productions including “The Ed Sullivan Show”, “Sanford and Son”, “WKRP in Cincinnati”, “A Bronx Tale”, “Dancing with the Stars”, and “Bates Motel”.

Along with her Image Awards, Reese’s accomplishments include being the first woman of colour to be a guest host on “The Tonight Show”.

Reese was also an ordained minister.

Predeceased by her daughter Deloreese Daniels Owens, Reese is survived by her third husband, to whom she had been married for 34 years, Franklin Lett and children – James, Franklin, and Dominique.


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