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Passings: Della Reese (1931 - 2017)

by VVN Music

Della Reese, who turned a successful music career into being an actor, died on Sunday evening at her home in California at the age of 86.

Roma Downey, her costar in the TV series Touched by an Angel, wrote:

Heaven has a brand new angel Della today πŸ•ŠπŸ•ŠπŸ•ŠOn behalf of her husband, Franklin Lett, and all her friends and family, I share with you the news that our beloved Della Reese has passed away peacefully at her California home surrounded by love. She was an incredible Wife, Mother, Grandmother, friend, and Pastor, as well as an award-winning actress and singer. Through her life and work she touched and inspired the lives of millions of people. 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. Della Reese will be forever in our hearts. Rest In Peace, sweet angel. We love you.

Born Delloreese Early in Detroit, MI, she was the daughter of an African-American steelworker and a Native American cook from the Cherokee tribe. She grew up as an only child, singing in the church starting at the age of 6 and, at 13, was hired into Mahalia Jackson's gospel group. She also kept up her studies while still touring with Jackson, becoming the first person in her family to graduate high school, doing it at the age of 15.

Her next break came when she won a contest with a prize of a one week stand at Detroit's Flame Show Bar.  Della was such a success that they kept her on for eight weeks and, in 1953, she signed with Jubilee Records, where she recorded numerous pop sides.

In 1957, she had her first major hit with "And That Reminds Me", recorded with the group The Honey Dreamers.  The song went to 12 on the Billboard charts and 15 on Cashbox, cementing her as a pop singing star.

Two years later, she had her biggest hit with "Don't You Know?" based on a melody written by Puccini for Le Boheme. Newly signed to RCA, the song went to number 2 on the Hot 100 and topped the R&B Singles for two weeks in late November 1959.

One more single, "Not One Minute More" (1960 / #16 Pop / #13 R&B) rounded out Reese's stay at the top of the charts, although she placed six more songs in the lower half of the Hot 100 through 1966.

Reese also had a major interest in acting that started during her childhood but it wasn't until the 70's that she started pursuing it professionally. Her first roll was in the 1973 TV movie Voyage of the Yes led to ten parts in theatrical films (including Harlem Nights, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate and Beauty Shop), twenty television films and parts in over three dozen series including 27 episodes of Chico and the Man and 211 episodes of Touched by An Angel. She was voted Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the Image Awards seven years in a row for the latter series.

In 1979, she suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm and, in 2002, announced that she had developed Type-2 Diabetes, becoming an active spokesperson for the Diabetes Association. In August of last year (2016), she admitted that she was in failing health and was using a wheelchair.

Reese also became an ordained minister in the 1980's.

She is survived by her fourth husband, Franklin Lett.