Della Reese, born Delloreese Patricia Early, was indeed one of the greats, her internationally stellar career spanning more than a half-century as vocalist, actor and television personality.
Discovered by gospel immortal Mahalia Jackson as a teenager (she graduated high school at 15), young Della sang on radio, went on tour, and later formed her own Meditation Singers before her father’s ailing health interrupted her education at Wayne University.
Signing with Jubilee Records, she segued to secular music, releasing six albums and the single And That Reminds Me, which charted in the top 20, going gold as she was voted Most Promising Singer by Billboard and Cashbox magazines. Then came her signature song for RCA, Don’t You Know?
While she never quite repeated the monumental success of that song, she enjoyed a long, lucrative stay on the airwaves with songs like Not One Minute More, And Now, Someday (You’ll Want Me to Want You), and The Most Beautiful Words, as well as a nine-year run in Las Vegas. She recorded until 1999.
In 1969, her charismatic presence added television to her repertoire with the talk show Della. She went on to guest star in numerous programs, including her friend Redd Foxx’s sitcoms Sanford & Son and The Royal Family, Flip Wilson, 227, Chico and the Man, The A-Team, The Mod Squad, That’s So Raven, The Young and the Restless and Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
She starred in the CBS drama Touched by An Angel, which ran from 1994 until 2003, after which it went into heavy syndication. On film, she co-starred with Martin Lawrence and Lynn Whitfield in A Thin Line Between Love and Hate and Queen Latifah in Beauty Shop, and she joined Foxx, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy for the hit Harlem Nights.
Della Reese passed away November 19 at her home in California.
Dwight Hobbes prepared this memorial for the MSR. He welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Minneapolis, MN 55403