Photo credit: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
On Sunday night, legendary singer and actress Della Reese passed away in her California home. She was 86 years old. Reese started blazing her own trail in the entertainment industry early in life when she started working with Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson’s group at age 13.
Two years later, at 15, Reese graduated from high school and began her studies at Wayne State University as a psychology major. She then went on to pursue her music career full-time, landing her signature hit “Don’t You Know” in 1959.
By 1969, Reese became the nation’s first African American woman to host a variety television show. Her TV show “Della” had 167 episodes and ran from 1969-1970. It ultimately paved the way for Oprah Winfrey to become the first African American woman to host a nationally syndicated talk show 17 years later. Reese also became the first Black woman to guest- host “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”
Over the course of her incredible career she received four Grammy nominations, played in 20 made-for-TV pictures, made appearances in several feature films, and became best known for her inspiring role on CBS’s “Touched by an Angel.”
“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,” Roma Downey, Reese’s co-star on “Touched By an Angel,” said in a statement. “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.”
Indeed. Ms. Reese, thank you for using your gifts and talents to inspire and uplift the world. Your powerful legacy will remain an inspiration to us all.