R&B Singer, 'Touched by an Angel' Star Della Reese Dies at 86

Danny Woods
November 21, 2017

In 1969, long before Oprah Winfrey was a household name, Reese hosted "Della", becoming the first black woman to host a nationally syndicated talk show. Reese was nominated for four Grammy Awards throughout her career.

Della Reese, the actress and gospel-influenced hit-making chanteuse who in middle age found her greatest fame as Tess, the wise angel in the long-running television drama "Touched by an Angel", died November 19 at her home in the Los Angeles area. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available. The beloved singer and actress has been battling diabetes for years, and died in her California home. She began singing in church as a six-year-old; admiring the glamorous vocalist-actress Lena Horne as her role model, and influenced by jazz artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. She describes her roles on the sitcoms Chico and the Man and Welcome Back, Kotter, joining both series mid-run. "She was a mother to me and I had the privilege of working with her side by side for so many years on 'Touched by an Angel.' I know heaven has a brand new angel this day". In the mid-1950s and early 1960s, her versions of "In the Still of the Night", "Don't You Know" and "And That Reminds Me", sold millions of copies.

Reese, a Detroit native, started touring as a backup singer to Mahalia Jackson when she was 13.

Before "Touched by an Angel" debuted in 1994, Ms. Reese had a long career headlining at major nightclubs, including the Copacabana in NY and the Cocoanut Grove in Hollywood, and a string of major recording successes.

Reese's costar Roma Downey sent People a statement confirming that Reese had died in her California home on Sunday.

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Reese then appeared in films like Harlem Nights and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, as well as TV guest roles on The A-Team and A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. Della Reese will be forever in our hearts.

"Heaven has a brand new angel", Downey said on Instagram. Rest In Peace, sweet angel. That was the gift she gave you when you were in her company. She took early to people-watching and to song, combining her childhood interests in precocious ways. She was a multi-talented, award-winning performer who shined brightly on soundstages and in concert halls.

After an illustrious singing career she turned to acting and famously starred in Touched By an Angel for almost a decade. She speaks in great detail about her own talk/variety series The Della Reese Show, commenting on markets the show played in and listing memorable guests. We will forever cherish her warm embraces and generosity of spirit. "Another angel has gotten her wings".

The actress, also known as the Rev. Della Reese Lett, was married to producer Franklin Thomas Lett for more than 35 years.

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