“When you really believe in God, it gives you a courage, a confidence that enables you to meet the things coming,” said Della Reese. Beloved singer, actor Della Reese has been known for her many wise words especially in her role as supervising angel, Tess, in the long-running, loved TV series Touched by an Angel.
Reverend Dr. Della Reese Lett went to be with our Lord on November 19, 2017 and during this Thanksgiving season we are thankful for her life and legacy.
Born in Michigan in 1931, Della made records and performed on TV variety shows in the 1950s. She hosted a TV talk show called Della from 1969 to 1970. Over decades, she appeared on many TV series such as Sanford and Son and Picket Fences. She was nominated in 1987 for a gospel music Grammy Award for best female soloist. Then in the 1990s, she performed the beloved leading role of Tess in the hit TV series Touched by an Angel. Throughout her career, Della Reese lived and loved others by faith.
Della began singing in church at six years old. At thirteen years of age, Della Reese worked with the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. While at Wayne State University in Detroit, Reese formed the Meditation Singers, which was an all-female gospel group.
In the 1950s, Della made records with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra and in 1954 she signed with Jubilee Records. For the label she produced the hit song “And That Reminds Me.” Working with RCA, Reese made her biggest pop hit “Don’t You Know.” She appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and other variety shows.
In 1969, Della hosted a TV talk/variety show called Della. She was the first African-American woman to host her own variety show. She was also the first female guest host of The Tonight Show. Della Reese began acting and made guest appearances on shows like The Mod Squad and Police Woman.
In the 1970s, Reese performed in a recurring role on the sitcom Chico and the Man. She appeared in many comedy series in 1980s and 1990s which included Charlie & Co. and The Royal Family.
In 1979, Della encountered a life-threatening situation during a taping for the Johnny Carson Show. As they carried Della to the ambulance, she prayed, “Lord, help me. God, help me.” After she awoke in the hospital her doctor said, “You have an aneurysm that has ruptured…explaining that an artery in the right portion of my brain had ballooned and burst…But we’re afraid there may be something else.” After she underwent another series of excruciating explorations, the doctor returned looking even more serious. He told Della that two other aneurysms had formed on the left side of my brain, near the optic nerve. “Your only hope now is an operation,” her doctor said. “But, I must warn you about it. In operations like this–when the optic nerve is so closely involved–seven percent of the patients have ended up blind…Or worse.”
Della’s mother had always made it clear that Jesus Christ was her personal choice and showed that by living His way every day. “Pray to Him and expect His help,” she told us. “He will not let you down when you need Him,” her mother had said. Della followed her mother’s example. Della said, “… early in life, I had made my own choice… I was so grateful that I had made the right one. For it was my faith in Jesus and His guidance that kept me… I believed that He would heal me. God had already saved me from the streets. He had answered my prayers for music, for everything. I knew He wouldn’t let me down now.”
The brain surgeon said, “You know, Della. I can’t do this surgery all by myself. I will do it with God’s help.” Della said, “…I just remember what I learned as a little girl. Jesus makes all the difference. If you pray to Him, and expect His help, you will be given it. I know. Because I was.”
In 1994, Della Reese went on to perform what has become one of her most notable, endearing roles as the supervising angel, Tess, in Touched by an Angel, along with Roma Downey and John Dye. In the series, the three were angels serving the living to overcome challenges and hardships.
After the show’s nine-season series, in 2003, Della continued to act while performing live on concert stages. She released albums such as Give it to God. She performed in the big-screen movie Beauty Shop with Queen Latifah. She also performed in TV movies such Hallelujah and Dear Secret Santa.
Roma Downey has said, “To many of us, Della Reese was the feisty, loving, warm-hearted angel, Tess, on the CBS hit television show Touched by an Angel. She entered our homes every week, bringing with her hope, love and a lavish dose of fun-loving humor. Whether calming us with her sweet, smooth singing voice or commanding our attention with her quick-witted dialogue, Della Reese has been loved and cherished by audiences for decades. She was an award-winning artist, a pioneer, a prime-time icon and beloved friend to those who knew her.”
“I could not have made it this far had there not been angels along the way” said Della Reese.
To learn more about this author please visit Dr. Diane Howard