Della Reese, the jazz legend who later was cast as heaven-sent Tess on the television series Touched by an Angel, died suddenly Sunday evening at the age of 86. According to Yahoo, Reese leaves behind three children –James, Franklin, and Dominique — and her husband, Franklin Lett.
“On 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 last evening 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,” Roma Downey posted on Facebook.
Downey revealed that Della was like a mother to her. She felt grateful for all the time she got spend with her on the set of Touched by an Angel. Roma said that she would see her again one day and knows that Reese will be watching over her loved ones from above.
Della Reese was born Delloreese Patricia Early on July 6, 1931, in Detroit, Michigan. She began music career by singing in her local church at the age of 6, which established her roots in Christian music. At the age of 13, she performed with Mahalia Jackson gospel group. Later, she went on to go on tour with the group.
Della formed her own band called the Meditation Singers, in the late 1940s. She worked with jazz artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, and she went on to sign a deal with Jubilee Records in 1953, releasing six jazz albums. Her first big hit came in 1957. “And That Reminds Me” was her first Top 20 hit and a global bestseller.
In the late 60s, she decided to expand her career from a jazz singer to break into television. She appeared on The Mod Squad, The Love Boat, Sanford and Son, MacGyver, Night Court, and Young and the Restless.
Della became the first black woman to co-host the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1970. After a Tonight Show appearance in 1979, she suffered a brain aneurysm that almost claimed her life.
In 1980, Reese became an ordained minister through the Christian New Thought branch known as Unity. She founded her own church, Understanding Principles for Better Living, which she called UP Church for short.
Della’s most famous role was on the hit television show Touched by an Angel, as supervising angel Tess. The show had mixed reviews initially, but it became a huge success for CBS. The series ran for nine years.
Reese had health problems later in life including a battle with diabetes. She noted that it was her fault that she was diagnosed with diabetes, citing poor diet and a lack of exercise as the cause.
[Featured Image by Jesse Grant/Getty Images]