As It Happens


Story by Chuck Tackett

“Do not resent growing old. Many are denied the privilege.”

Irish proverb

Are we going to have a repeat of the last two months of 2016 this year when it seemed we lost a bunch of famous people almost daily? At one point, it became so bad that many people were distraught waiting for 2017 to arrive to stop the madness.

Seems like lately, we are repeating the trend this year again. One of the latest celebrities we have lost this past week and a half was singer and actress Della Reese

Reese was born July 6th, 1931, in the historic neighborhood of “Black Bottom” located in Detroit, Michigan. She was born to an African American father and a Native American mother of the Cherokee tribe.

Della started singing at church when she was 6 years old, which led her to become an avid gospel singer. Della’s love for acting started in the 1940’s when, on weekends, she and her mother would go to the movies. Della’s favorite actresses were Bette Davis, Lena Horne, and Joan Crawford. She was noted to rush home and practice scenes from the movies she watched. She pretended she was living the glamorous lives of those actresses on the silver screen.

Della didn’t let her acting fantasies interfere with her singing. Because of her talent, she appeared live on the radio singing. At the age of 13, she was hired to be a singer in Mahalia Jackson’s choir. Because of that job, she toured nationally with Mahalia. Reese’s education didn’t suffer as well. Because of her extraordinary grades, Della was the first in her family to graduate from high school in the Class of 1947 at the age of 15.

Reese’s big break came when she won a singing contest. The prize was a weeklong gig in Detroit’s famous nightclub, “The Flame Bar.” Reese’s singing was so admired, that her gig was extended to 8 weeks. There she was in the company of celebrities like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, and Sarah Vaughn. They expanded her repertoire from Gospel to Jazz, Blues, and R&B.

Because of her talent, Reese was able to sign a recording contract with Jubilee Records. Della recorded 6 albums for them. In 1957, she recorded a Billboard Top 20 hit entitled “And That Reminds Me.” in that same year, Billboard and other music magazines voted Della as “Most Promising Singer.”

In 1960, Reese was able to land several ads in Ebony magazine as a model because of her stunning good looks. By 1969, she was able to transition to a very long and successful TV and film career. In that same year, Della had her own TV talk show series entitled “Della.” It lasted for 197 episodes. It was canceled in March 1970.

Reese’s most famous movie role was in the 1991 film “Harlem Nights” in which she starred with her dear friend Redd Foxx, Jasmine Guy, Robin Harris, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor.. 1991 continued to be a banner year for Della’s television career as well. Distraught over the death of Redd Foxx that same year, Reese almost didn’t try out for the role of Martha, an angel in the TV show “Touched by an Angel”, her most recognized TV role.

In 2016, Reese was rumored to be in very poor health. Della confirmed those rumors when she admitted she ignored her health for years. In that same year, Della officially retired from acting.

Della Reese passed November 16th, 2017 in her Los Angeles home. No cause was given. RIP Della! You were a magnificent trailblazer.

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