ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVE   A-CD-GH-LM-RS-Z

Della Reese
National Visionary


Born July 6, 1931 in Detroit, MI

Singer, Actress, Minister








BIOGRAPHY
For nearly six decades, Della Reese has enjoyed a successful and varied career as an entertainer. A powerful singer, and talented comedic and dramatic actress, Reese is also an ordained minister for whom a faith has played an important role in life.

Reese was born on July 6, 1931 in Detroit, Michigan, where she began singing in her church choir at the age of six. At age 13, she was invited by the legendary singer Mahalia Jackson to join the Mahalia Jackson Troupe gospel singers, with whom she toured from 1945 through 1949.

While attending Wayne State University for a year, she formed a gospel group called the Meditation Singers. After the death of her mother forced Reese to leave school, she continued to perform on occasion with the Meditation Singers and other groups, while she worked at odd jobs to help support her family.

Her singing career turned a corner when she won a contest for favorite local singer and was awarded a week-long engagement at the famed Flame Showbar. This opportunity led to appearances in Chicago and New York, and eventually to her first record contract in 1954. In 1957 she released her first big hit “And that Reminds Me” and was voted “The Most Promising Girl Singer” of the year by Billboard, Cashbox, and Variety magazines. Over the next few years, Reese appeared on popular television shows, such as the Ed Sullivan Show and the Jackie Gleason Show, and at prominent night club venues in Las Vegas, the Coconut Grove in Hollywood, the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and the Apollo Theatre and Copacabana in New York.


This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
Center
After gaining success as a singer, Reese became the first African American woman to host her own television show, Della, in 1969. She began acting in television roles in the 1960s and 1970s, appearing in popular series such as The Mod Squad, The Love Boat, Chico and the Man, Night Court, LA Law, Designing Women, and Pickett Fences. After appearing on the big screen with Eddie Murphy in Harlem Nights, Murphy offered her a staring role in her own sitcom, The Royal Family, with Redd Fox.

Her role as Tess on the hit series, Touched By An Angel, allowed her to combine her acting talents with her deep spirituality. In 1997, Reese wrote her autobiography, “Angels Along the Way,” in which she describes her relationship with God and the human angels who have helped her throughout her life. She became an ordained minister in 1987 and continues to preach every Sunday at a church that she founded in Los Angeles.

Reese is married to Franklin Thomas Lett, Jr. and has a daughter and two stepchildren.

VIDEO CLIPS


EXTERNAL LINKS
Della Reese's Wikipedia Page

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/reesedella


ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVE   A-CD-GH-LM-RS-Z