Della Reese (born Delloreese Patricia Early; July 6, 1931 - November 19, 2017 was an American nightclub, jazz, gospel, and pop singer; film and television actress; one-time talk-show hostess; and ordained minister, whose careerspanned six decades. She also appeared as a guest on several talk shows and as a panelist on numerous game shows.
Reese's long career began as a singer, scoring a hit with her 1959 single "Don't You Know?". In the late 1960s, she hosted her own talk show, Della, which ran for 197 episodes.[4She also starred in films beginning in 1975, including playing opposite Redd Foxx in Harlem Nights (1989), Martin Lawrence in A Thin Line Between Love and Hate (1996) and Elliott Gould in Expecting Mary (2010). She achieved continuing success in the television religious fantasy drama Touched by an Angel (1994–2003), in which Reese played the leading role of Tess.
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 Fitzgerald, Sarah 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). The songs were later included on the album And That Reminds Me (1959).
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 Billboard, Cashbox 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 from Puccini's music for La bohème, specifically, the aria "Quando m'en vo'" (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. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA. 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 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)otown 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. She announced her retirement from performing in 2014.
Throughout her long career, Reese proved indomitable in the face of serious health crises. In 1979, she suffered a brain aneurysm during a taping of “The Tonight Show,” and weathered two brain surgeries. She collapsed on the set of “Touched by an Angel” in 2002, and later announced she suffered from type 2 diabetes.
Reese’s four marriages included a brief, annulled union with Mercer Ellington, son of jazz great Duke Ellington. She is survived by her husband Franklin Lett, a film producer and concert promoter.
- 5' 2" (1.57m)
- $3 million (celebritynetworth.com)
- Franklin Lett (m. 1983-present), Leroy Gray (m. 1959-1961), Vermont Taliaferro (m. 1951-1958)
- Nellie Mitchelle, Richard Thaddeus Early
- Franklin Reese, Deloreese Reese, Dominique Reese, James Reese