The star who would later be known as “Della Reese” was born Delloreese Patricia Early on July 6, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan. By the time she was six years old, she was singing gospel music in church. By the time Della was thirteen, she began touring with Mahalia Jackson, an outstanding name in the Gospel music world.
After she finished high school, Della Reese continued her education at Wayne State University in Detroit where she majored in psychology. Della put together her own female singing group, called the Meditation Singers, when she was just eighteen years old. Her group is listed in the “Who’s Who of Gospel Music.”
Sadly, during this time, Della Reese’s mother passed away. Her father wasn’t able to work, so Della had to drop out of college and go to work to support her family. But then, her singing career really started to take off when her strong vocal talents won a contest. The prize? One week of performing at the famous “Flame Showbar” in her hometown of Detroit. During that first week of singing, (which became an eight week gig), Della came in contact with some influential names such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Billie Holiday.
By 1953, Della Reese was definitely on her way to national stardom. She moved to New York City and sang with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra. It wasn’t long before she signed up with Jubilee Records and released the songs, “In the Still of the Night,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and “Time After Time.” The song, “And That Reminds Me (of you)” became her first major recording hit.
In 1959, Della moved on to RCA Records. She then released another hit, a song titled, “Don’t You Know.”
After a successful singing career throughout the 50’s and 60’s which garnered her a Grammy award nomination, as well as spots on the Billboard charts, Della Reese moved her talents to television. She appeared on “The Perry Como Show,” “The Jackie Gleason Show,” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Finally, she became the first black woman to host her own television show. Della could later be seen appearing on such shows as, “Chico and the Man”, “Sanford and Son”, “It Takes Two”, and more. Della also acted in the movies, “Harlem Nights” and “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate”.
However, her role as “Tess”, a mentoring angel in CBS’ series, “Touched By an Angel” has been Della’s greatest contribution to television. The show started a ten-season run in 1994. From that, Della Reese won several Image Awards and Emmy nominations. Della was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994.
In her personal life, away from the camera and out of the recording studios, Della was busy with being a mother to her four children, Deloreese, James, Franklin, and Dominique. True to her deep, religious roots, she also became an ordained minister in 1986.
Today, Della Reese is married to Franklin Lett, a producer. The couple resides in Los Angeles, California.