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Reese, Della 1931–

Della Reese 1931

Singer, actress, minister

At a Glance

Launched Performing Career

Broke into Television

Made Small Screen History

Suffered Near-Fatal Illness

Racked Up Singing and Acting Credits

Selected discography

Selected writings

Sources

As both an accomplished actress and singer of gospel, pop, and blues, Della Reese admits that her first love is singing. She is well known for her clear, powerful voice, distinctive diction, and emotional delivery. Yet television and movie performances have rounded out her varied career in the entertainment business and showcased her talents both as a comedic and dramatic actress. The youngest in a family of six children born to Richard, a factory worker, and Nellie, a cook, she grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where the Baptist church and gospel music were strong early influences. At the age of six, Deloreese Patricia Early began singing in the churchs junior choir.

For the next seven years, Deloreese continued to sing in her churchs gospel choir. By the time she was 13, she had developed such vocal power and talent that she attracted the attention of gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. Known as the Queen of Gospel Music, Jackson recruited Deloreese for her Mahalia Jackson Troupe gospel singers. This opportunity to sing with the worlds foremost gospel singer was a thrilling experience, Reese noted in a 1992 press release. I will never forget the wonderful association which lasted for five consecutive summers, and the lasting things I learned from her how to communicate with people through song, he continued. Reese toured with the gospel group from 1945 through 1949.

Reese enrolled in Wayne University in 1949 with the intention of majoring in psychology. She also continued to develop her singing career. She formed a womens gospel group called the Meditation Singers during her first year at Wayne. By late 1949, Reeses mother had died and her father had become ill. She dropped out of college to help support her family, working at various times as a receptionist and switchboard operator, a barber, a taxicab driver, and a truck driver.

During this time Reese continued to sing with the Meditation Singers. She also had the occasional opportunity to perform with the Clara Ward Singers, the Roberta Martin Singers, and Beatrice Browns Inspirational Singers. Reese did not consider singing as a career, however. In a December 1957 interview with Don Nelsen for the New York Sunday News, she said, I was interested in singing, but I thought of it as something to do when you didnt have anything else to do.

At a Glance

Born Deloreese Patricia Early, July 6, 1931, in De troit, Ml; daughter of Richard (a factory worker) and Nellie (a domestic) Early; married Vermont Adolphus Bon Taliaferro (a factory worker; divorced); married Leroy Basil Gray (an accountant; divorced); married Mercer Ellington, 1961 (annulled 1961); married Franklin Thomas Lett, Jr. (a concert and tv producer and businessman), 1978; children: Deloreese Daniels (Dumpsey; adopted 1961 ), Dr, James Barger (adopted 1965); stepchildren: Franklin Lett III, Dominique Lett Education: Attended Wayne State University, 194950.

Career: Sang with the Mahalia Jackson Troupe, summers, 194549; formed the Meditation Singers, a gospel group, 1949; worked as a receptionist, a taxi driver, and a barber; sang with Clara Ward Singers, the Roberta Martin Singers, Beatrice Browns Inspirational Singers, and the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra; signed with Jubilee Records, 1954; signed with RCA, 1959; performed in nightclubs across the U.S.; made over 300 television guest appearances on popular talk and entertainment shows; guest host of The Tonight Show; host of her own variety show, Della, 196970; guest star in numerous television shows, including The Mod Squad, Chico and the Man, Designing Women, LA, Law, and Picket Fences; costar of television situation comedy The Royal Family, CBS, 199192; Touched by an Angel, 1994-; actress in films, including Lets Rock, The Distinguished Gentleman, and Harlem Nights; toured in revue Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues, beginning 1992. Ordained minister, Universal Foundation for Better Living.

Awards: Named Most Promising Girl Singer of 1957; Emmy nomination for best supporting actress, 1977; Grammy nomination for best female soloist-gospel, 1987; approved for star on Hollywood Walk of Fame; numerous gold records.

Addresses: AgentLett Entertainment, 1910 Bel Air Rd., Los Angeles, CA 90077.

Launched Performing Career

Since gospel singers made very little money, Reese thought a career in business would be the best way for her to earn a living. Nevertheless, she toyed with the idea of making music her profession. She knew that earning a living as a singer would mean performing popular music in nightclubs; this caused her some distress, since the extravagance and excesses she associated with club life clashed with her religious beliefs. However, when the Reverend E. A. Rundless of Detroits New Liberty Baptist Church encouraged her to pursue a singing career, she put her reservations aside. A short time after Reese became a hostess-singer at a local bowling alley/nightclub, she won a contest in which newspaper readers voted for their favorite local singer. The prize was a week-long engagement at Detroits famous Flame Showbar.

At the time, Reese was married to Detroit factory worker Vermont Adolphus Bon Taliaferro. Because she could not fit her name on the nightclub marquee, she decided to shorten it to Pat Ferro. By the time her engagement at the Flame Showbar ended eighteen weeks later, she had changed her name again. Dividing her first name into Della Reese, she created her professional name, one that would become synonymous with blues, jazz, and gospel music excellence.

It was during her engagement at the Flame Showbar that Reese attracted the attention of New York agent Lee Magid, who agreed to represent her. In 1953 Reese moved to New York to sing with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra. In the nine months she was with the orchestra, she further developed her vocal talents and style of delivery, alternating between blues, jump tunes, and Latin music.

In 1954 Reese signed a contract with Jubilee Records. Her first releases included Ive Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, Time After Time, and In The Still of the Night, which sold 500,000 copies. Reeses first big hit, And That Reminds Me, sold over a million copies in 1957. She was soon voted The Most Promising Girl Singer of the year by Billboard, Cashbox, and Variety magazines, along with the Disc Jockeys of America and the Jukebox Operators Association.

Broke into Television

With her successful recording career in full swing, Reese was in demand for national television appearances. She entertained viewers of the Perry Como, Jackie Gleason, Joey Bishop, and Ed Sullivan shows during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Appearances on the Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Pat Boone, and Hollywood Palace shows followed, as did radio performances. She toured the nightclub circuit and even landed a singing role in the 1958 Columbia film Lets Rock. In 1959 Della Reese recorded her biggest hit, Dont You Know?, for RCA Victor. This success of this single, which was adapted from Italian composer Giacomo Puccinis opera La Bohème, led to nine years of performing in Las Vegas and more than three decades of recording successes for a variety of labels, including ABC-Paramount and AVCO-Embassy.

Made Small Screen History

Reese became the first woman to stand in for Johnny Carson when she guest hosted The Tonight Show. In 1969 she made history again, becoming the first black woman to host her own television program, a variety show titled Delia, which was nationally syndicated by RKO in 1969 and 1970. When Reeses television contract was not renewed, she resumed her career as a nightclub performer. She has entertained in many of the countrys top clubs, including such famous night spots as the Coconut Grove in Hollywood, the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Los Angeless Greek Theatre, and the Apollo Theatre and Copacabana, both in New York. She has also toured internationally, performing at venues in Europe, Japan, and South America.

Suffered Near-Fatal Illness

On October 3, 1980, Reese was taping a segment for The Tonight Show when something went terribly wrong. I hit a horrendous notethe flattest Ive ever sung. My left knee buckled and I fell to the floor, she related in People magazine. An aneurysm, or weakened spot on an artery, had burst within her brain. On the brink of death for several days, Reese faced the reality that she might never make a full recovery. But her faith in God, the love and support of her family, and the talents of a Canadian neurosurgeon pulled her through.

Reeses strong religious convictionsevident in the inclusion of black spirituals in virtually all of her nightclub performancesprompted her to found the Understanding Principles for Better Living Church in 1983. She also enrolled in The Johnnie Colemon Institute, a religious-training school, and became an ordained minister in 1987. A deeply religious person, Reese maintains that without faith, her success in the fields of music and acting would not have been possible.

Racked Up Singing and Acting Credits

Since her television acting debut in 1968 as a disco owner on The Mod Squad, Reese has continued appearing on the small screen, singing on many shows, including The Love Boat, The Great American Gospel Show, and the Grand Ol Opry. In 1976, Reese landed the role of Delia Rogers on the popular sitcom, Chico and the Man. In 1986, she was a regular in the role of Aunt Rachel on the short-lived series, Charlie & Co. Her acting talent is also evident in the widely varied guest-starring roles she has landed over the years on such series as San ford and Son, Police Story, The A Team, MacGyver, Night Court, Crazy Like a Fox, Young Riders, Designing Women, L.A. Law, and Picket Fences. During the 199192 television season, she costarred in the CBS-TV hit The Royal Family. Although the death in 1991 of Redd Foxx, Reeses television-husband in the series, cast doubt on the fate of the show, the plot was reworked and the situation comedy continued for the rest of the season.

Reese returned to the big screen in the role of Vera in the movie Harlem Nights in 1989, a film which featured a memorable fight scene with Eddie Murphy. She also appeared with Eddie Murphy in his 1992 film The Distinguished Gentleman. Reese credits her success as an actress to her experience as a live singer and nightclub performer. If you can make people believe your songs of blues and sadness, when you dont feel that way well, that takes acting ability I always knew I had, she was quoted as saying in a press release.

In addition to acting, Reese continues to pursue her first love, singing. She has often performed in concert halls, nightclubs, and at music festivals. In 1992 she starred in a nightclub show created by her husband, Franklin Lett. Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues opened at the Cinegrill in Hollywood to rave reviews. Wrote Don Heckman in the Los Angeles Times, Reese genuinely appeared to be enjoying every minute. Reaching out, pulling her audience into the music, asking them to share both the pleasure and the passion of her experience, she was an irresistible spokeswoman for the joys and tears of the blues.

In 1994, Reese accepted the role of the wise angel Tess in the CBS television series, Touched By an Angel. The show opened to dismal reviews and was in danger of being cancelled. However, Reeses faith convinced her that the show would ultimately become a success. Her faith in Touched By an Angel was not misplaced. The show caught on with viewers in 1996 and has become a smash hit, finishing each week in the top ten of the Nielsen ratings. Reeses work in Touched By an Angel has led to Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and Emmy Award nominations. She has won NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Touched By an Angel both in 1996 and 1998.

In 1997, Reese wrote her autobiography Angels Along the Way: My Life with Help from Above. In the book, she details her belief that angels have guided and strengthened her throughout her life and led to her successful career as an actress and singer. Writing the book offered Reese an unexpected opportunity to heal the wounds of the past. It was very fulfilling, she related in Jet, It wasnt difficult to write. I did have reactions of anger and of crying. Reese also remarked in Jet that she hopes the story of her life journey will be an inspiration to others, I want to show people that if He would do this for me, He will do the same thing for you.

Selected discography

Ive Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, Jubilee, c. 1955.

Time After Time, Jubilee, c. 1955.

In the Still of the Night, Jubilee, c. 1956.

One More Time, ABC-Paramount, 1956.

And That Reminds Me, Jubilee, 1957.

A Date with Della-at Mr. Kellys, Jubilee, 1958.

Della by Starlight, RCA Victor, 1960.

Della, Della, Cha Cha Cha, RCA Victor, 1960.

I Like It Like Dat, ABC-Paramount, c. 1960.

Special Delivery, Della Reese, RCA Victor, 1961.

Della on Stage, RCA Victor, 1962.

The Classic Delia, RCA Victor, 1962.

Waltz with Me, Delia, RCA Victor, 1963.

Three Great Girls, RCA Victor, 1963.

Della Reese at Basin Street East, RCA Victor, 1964.

Cmon and Hear, ABC-Paramount, 1965, reissued, Pickwick, 1978.

Moody, Della Reese, RCA Victor, 1965.

On Strings of Blue, ABC-Paramount, 1967.

The Best of Della Reese, RCA Victor, 1972.

Let Me in Your Life, Lee Magid, 1972.

Della Reese, ABC-Paramount, 1976.

One of a Kind, Jazz a la Carte, 1978.

Hush, Somebodys CallinMy Name, CUT, 1979.

Sure Like Lovin You, Della Reese (Applause), 1983.

Della Reese and Brilliance, AIR Co., 1987.

Black Is Beautiful, AVCO-Embassy.

What Do You Know About Love?, Jubilee.

Amen, Jubilee.

The Story of the Blues, Jubilee.

Selected writings

Angels Along the Way: My Life With Help From Above, Putnam, 1997.

Sources

Periodicals

Black Elegance, July 1992.

Jet, December 9, 1991; November 24, 1997.

Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1992.

McCalls, October 1997, pp. 5054.

Melody Maker, August 29, 1987.

New York Sunday News, December 29, 1957.

People, May 19, 1980, pp. 13739; February 24, 1997, pp. 11314.

Variety, November 18, 1981; May 7, 1986.

Village Voice, March 16, 1982.

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from a Lett Entertainment press release, 1992, and an interview featured on Entertainment Tonight, ABC-TV, April 29, 1993.

J. M. Lesinski, D. Oblender, and Sandy J. Stiefer

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Reese, Della 1931–

Della Reese 1931

Singer, actress, minister

At a Glance

Broke into Television

Made Small Screen History

Suffered Near-Fatal Illness

Racked Up Singing and Acting Credits

Selected discography

Sources

A singer of gospel, pop, and blues, and an actress and talk show host, Delia Reese admits that her first love is singing. She is well known for her clear, powerful voice, distinctive diction, and emotional delivery. Yet television and movie performances have rounded out her varied career in the entertainment business and proven her to be a talented comedic and dramatic actress. Reese started her singing career in gospel music. The youngest in a family of six children, she grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where the Baptist church and gospel singing greatly influenced her career. At age six, Deloreese Patricia Early was singing in the churchs junior choir.

For the next seven years Deloreese continued her gospel singing in the church. By the time she was 13, the singer had developed such vocal power and talent that she caught the attention of the legendary Mahalia Jackson. Known as the Queen of Gospel Music, Jackson recruited Deloreese for her Mahalia Jackson Troupe gospel singers. This opportunity to sing with the worlds foremost gospel singer was a thrilling experience, Reese noted in a 1992 press release. I will never forget the wonderful association which lasted for five consecutive summers, and the lasting things I learned from herhow to communicate with people through song. The teenaged Reese toured with the gospel group from 1945 through 1949.

Although Reese majored in psychology at Wayne State University in Detroit, singing was still very important to her. She formed a womens gospel group called the Meditation Singers during her first year at Wayne State. By the end of that year, Reeses mother had died and her father had become ill. Reese ended her college education to help support her family, working variously as a receptionist and switchboard operator, a barber, a taxicab driver, and even a truck driver.

During this time Reese continued to sing with the Meditation Singers. She also had the occasional opportunity to perform with the Clara Ward Singers, the Roberta Martin Singers, and Beatrice Browns Inspirational Singers. Reese did not consider singing as a career, however. In a December 1957 interview with Don Nelsen for the New York Sunday News, she said, I was interested in singing, but I thought of it as something to do when you didnt have anything else to do.

Since gospel singers made very little money, Reese thought a career in business would be the best way for her to earn a living. Nevertheless, she toyed with the idea of making

At a Glance

Born Deloreese Patricia Early, July 6, 1931, in Detroit, Ml; daughter, of Richard (a factory worker) and Nellie (a domestic) Early; married Vermont Adolphus Bon Taliaferro (a factory worker; divorced); married Leroy Basil Gray (an accountant; divorced); married Mercer Ellington, 1961 (annulled 1961); married Franklin Thomas Lett, Jr. (a concert and television producer and businessman), 1978; children: Deloreese Daniels (Dumpsey; adopted 1961), Dr. James Barger (adopted 1965); stepchildren: Franklin Lett Ill, Dominique Lett. Education: Attended Wayne State University, 1949-50.

Sang with the Mahalia Jackson Troupe, summers, 1945-49; formed the Meditation Singers, a gospel group, 1949; worked as a receptionist, a taxi driver, and a barber; sang with Clara Ward Singers, the Roberta Martin Singers, Beatrice Browns Inspirational Singers, and the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra; signed with Jubilee Records, 1954; signed with RCA, 1959; performed in nightclubs across the U.S.; made over 300 television guest appearances on popular talk and entertainment shows; guest host of The Tonight Show; host of her own variety show, Delia, 1969-70; guest star in numerous television shows, including The Mod Squad, Chico and the Man, Designing Women, LA. Law, and Picket Fences; costar of television situation comedy The Royal Family, CBS, 1991-92; actress in films, including Lets Rock, The Distinguished Gentleman, and Harlem Nights; toured in revue Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues, beginning 1992. Ordained minister, Universal Foundation for Better Living.

Awards: Named Most Promising Girl Singer of 1957; Emmy nomination for best supporting actress, 1977; Grammy nomination for best female soloistgospel, 1987; approved for star on Hollywood Walk of Fame; numerous gold records.

Addresses: Agent Lett Entertainment, 1910 Bel Air Rd., Los Angeles, CA 90077.

music her profession. She knew that earning a living as a singer would mean performing popular music in nightclubs; this caused her some distress, since the extravagance and excesses she associated with club life clashed with her religious beliefs. Yet when the Reverend E. A. Rundless of Detroits New Liberty Baptist Church encouraged her to pursue a singing career, she put her reservations aside. A short time after Reese became a hostess-singer at a local bowling alley/nightclub, she won a contest in which newspaper readers voted for their favorite local singer. The prize was a week-long engagement at Detroits famous Flame Showbar.

At the time, Reese was married to Detroit factory worker Vermont Adolphus Bon Taliaferro. Because she could not fit her name on the nightclub marquee, she decided to shorten it to Pat Ferro. By the time her engagement at the Flame Showbar ended eighteen weeks later, she had changed her name again. Dividing her first name into Delia Reese, she created her professional name, one that would become synonymous with blues, jazz, and gospel music.

It was during her engagement at the Flame Showbar that Reese came to the attention of New York agent Lee Magid, who agreed to represent her. In 1953 Reese moved to New York to sing with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra. In the nine months she was with the orchestra, she further developed her vocal talents and style of delivery, alternating between blues, jump tunes, and Latin music.

In 1954 Reese signed a contract with Jubilee Records. Her first releases included Ive Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, Time After Time, and In The Still of the Night, which sold 500,000 copies. Reeses first big hit, And That Reminds Me, sold over a million copies in 1957. She was soon voted The Most Promising Girl Singer of the year by Billboard, Cashbox and Variety magazines, along with the Disc Jockeys of America and the Jukebox Operators Association.

Broke into Television

With her recording success in full swing, Reese was in demand for national television appearances. She entertained viewers of the Perry Como, Jackie Gleason, Joey Bishop, and Ed Sullivan shows during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Appearances on the Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Pat Boone, and Hollywood Palace shows followed, as did radio performances. She toured the nightclub circuit and even landed a singing role in the 1958 Columbia film Lets Rock.

In 1959 Delia Reese recorded her biggest hit, Dont You Know?, for RCA Victor. The success of this single, which was adapted from Italian composer Giacomo Puccinis opera La Boheme, led to nine years of performing in Las Vegas and more than three decades of recording successes for a variety of labels, including ABC-Paramount and AVCO-Embassy.

Made Small Screen History

Reese became the first woman to stand in for Johnny Carson when she guest hosted The Tonight Show. In 1969 she made history again, becoming the first black woman to host her own television program, a variety show titled Delia, which was nationally syndicated by RKO in 1969 and 1970.

When Reeses television contract was not renewed, she resumed her nightclub performing. During her long career, she has entertained in many of the countrys top clubs, including such famous night spots as the Cocoanut Grove in Hollywood, the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Los Angeless Greek Theatre, and the Apollo Theatre and Copacabana, both in New York. She has also toured internationally, performing at venues in Europe, Japan, and South America.

Suffered Near-Fatal Illness

On October 3, 1980, at the age of 48, Reese was taping a segment for The Tonight Show when something went terribly wrong. I hit a horrendous notethe flattest Ive ever sung. My left knee buckled and I fell to the floor, she related in People magazine. An aneurysm, or weakened spot on an artery, had broken in her brain. On the brink of death for several days, Reese faced the reality that she might never make a full recovery. But her faith in God and the talents of a Canadian neurosurgeon pulled her through.

Reeses strong religious convictionsevident in the inclusion of black spirituals in virtually all of her nightclub performancesprompted her to pursue ordination in the Universal Foundation for Better Living, an organization of 22 churches worldwide. The Reverend Delia considers this step a glorious development in her spiritual life and maintains that without religion, her success in the fields of music and acting would not have been possible.

Racked Up Singing and Acting Credits

Since her television acting debut in 1968 as a disco owner on The Mod Squad, Reese has continued appearing on the small screen, singing on many shows, including The Love Boat, The Great American Gospel Show, and the Grand Ol Opry. Her acting talent is evident in the widely varied guest-starring roles she has landed over the years on such series as San ford and Son, Police Story, Chico and the Man, The A Team, MacGyver, Night Court, Crazy Like a Fox, Young Riders, Designing Women, L.A. Law, and Picket Fences, in which she played a saucy but ailing blues legend who requires radical, experimental surgery. She even picked up an Emmy nomination for her appearance in Nightmare in Badham County. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Reese lamented the dearth of good meaty parts for women, especially black women over 60.

Reese credits her success as an actress to her experience as a live singer and nightclub performer. If you can make people believe your songs of blues and sadness, when you dont feel that waywell, that takes acting ability I always knew I had, she was quoted as saying in her press release. Reese has also appeared on the big screen in Harlem Nights, which features a memorable fight scene with Eddie Murphy, and The Distinguished Gentleman, another Eddie Murphy Production. And in the 1991-92 television season, she costarred in the CBS-TV hit The Royal Family. Although the death in 1991 of Redd FoxxReeses television-husband in the seriescast doubt on the fate of the show, the plot was reworked and the situation comedy continued for the rest of the season.

Aside from her fame as an actress, Delia Reese continues her first lovesinging. Between tapings of television shows she performs in concert halls, nightclubs, and at music festivals. In 1992 she starred in a new nightclub show created by her husband, Franklin Lett. Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues opened at the Cinegrill in Hollywood to rave reviews. Wrote Don Heckman in the Los Angeles Times, Reese genuinely appeared to be enjoying every minute. Reaching out, pulling her audience into the music, asking them to share both the pleasure and the passion of her experience, she was an irresistible spokeswoman for the joys and tears of the blues.

Selected discography

Ive Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, Jubilee, c. 1955.

Time After Time, Jubilee, c. 1955.

In the Still of the Night, Jubilee, c. 1956.

One More Time, ABC-Paramount, 1956.

And That Reminds Me, Jubilee, 1957.

A Date with Deliaat Mr. Kellys, Jubilee, 1958.

Delia by Starlight, RCA Victor, 1960.

Delia, Delia, Cha Cha Cha, RCA Victor, 1960.

I Like It Like Dat, ABC-Paramount, c. 1960.

Special Delivery, Delia Reese, RCA Victor, 1961.

Delia on Stage, RCA Victor, 1962.

The Classic Delia, RCA Victor, 1962.

Waltz with Me, Delia, RCA Victor, 1963.

Three Great Girls, RCA Victor, 1963.

Delia Reese at Basin Street East, RCA Victor, 1964.

Cmon and Hear, ABC-Paramount, 1965, reissued, Pickwick, 1978.

Moody, Delia Reese, RCA Victor, 1965.

On Strings of Blue, ABC-Paramount, 1967.

The Best of Delia Reese, RCA Victor, 1972.

Let Me in Your Life, Lee Magid, 1972.

Delia Reese, ABC-Paramount, 1976.

One of a Kind, Jazz a la Carte, 1978.

Hush, Somebodys Callinf My Name, CUT, 1979.

Sure Like Lovin You, Delia Reese (Applause), 1983.

Delia Reese and Brilliance, AIR Co., 1987.

Black Is Beautiful, AVCO-Embassy.

What Do You Know About Love?, Jubilee.

Amen, Jubilee.

The Story of the Blues, Jubilee.

Sources

Black Elegance, July 1992.

Jet, December 9, 1991.

Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1992.

Melody Maker, August 29, 1987.

New York Sunday News, December 29, 1957.

People, May 19, 1980, pp. 137-39.

Variety, November 18, 1981; May 7, 1986.

Village Voice, March 16, 1982.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from a Lett Entertainment press release, 1992, and an interview featured on Entertainment Tonight, ABC-TV, April 29, 1993.

Sandy J. Stiefer and Jeanne M. Lesinski

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Reese, Della 1931–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Reese, Della 1931–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/reese-della-1931-0

"Reese, Della 1931–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved October 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/reese-della-1931-0

Reese, Della

Della Reese

Singer, actress, minister

Launched Performing Career

Broke Into Television

Expanded Acting Career

Selected discography

Sources

Gospel, pop, and blues singer, actress, and talk show host Della Reese admits that her first love is singing. She is well known for her clear, powerful voice, distinctive diction, and emotional delivery. Yet television and movie performances have rounded out her varied career in the entertainment business and proven her to be a talented comedie and dramatic actress. The youngest in a family of six children, she grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where the Baptist church and gospel singing greatly influenced her career. At age six, Deloreese Patricia Early was singing in the churchs junior choir.

For the next seven years Deloreese continued her gospel singing in the church. By the time she was 13, the singer had developed such vocal power and talent that she caught the attention of the legendary Mahalia Jackson. Known as the Queen of Gospel Music, Jackson recruited Deloreese for her Mahalia Jackson Troupe gospel singers. This opportunity to sing with the worlds foremost gospel singer was a thrilling experience, Reese noted in a 1992 press release. I will never forget the wonderful association which lasted for five consecutive summers, and the lasting things I learned from her how to communicate with people through song. The teenaged Reese toured with the gospel group from 1945 through 1949.

Although Reese studied psychology at Wayne State University in Detroit, singing remained very important to her. She formed a womens gospel group called the Meditation Singers during her first year at Wayne State. By the end of that year, Reeses mother had died and her father had become ill. Reese ended her college education to help support her family, working variously as a receptionist and switchboard operator, barber, taxicab driver, and even as a truck driver.

During this time Reese continued to perform with the Meditation Singers. She also had the occasional opportunity to perform with the Clara Ward Singers, the Roberta Martin Singers, and Beatrice Browns Inspirational Singers. Reese did not consider singing as a career, however. In a December 1957 interview with Don Nelsen for the New York Sunday News, she said, I was interested in singing, but I thought of it as something to do when you didnt have anything else to do.

Launched Performing Career

Since gospel singers made very little money, Reese thought a career in business would be the best way for her to earn a living. Nevertheless, she toyed with the

For the Record

Born Deloreese Patricia Early, July 6, 1931, in Detroit, MI; daughter of Richard (a factory worker) and Nellie (a domestic) Early; married Vermont Adolphus Bon Taliaferro (a factory worker; divorced); married Leroy Basil Gray (an accountant; divorced); married Mercer Ellington, 1961 (annulled 1961); married Franklin Thomas Lett, Jr. (a concert and television producer and businessman), 1978; children: Deloreese Daniels (Dumpsey; adopted 1961), James Barger (adopted 1965); stepchildren: Franklin Lett III, Dominique Lett. Education: Attended Wayne State University, 1949-50.

Sang with the Mahalia Jackson Troupe, summers, 1945-49; formed gospel group the Meditation Singers, 1949; worked as a receptionist, taxi driver, barber, and truck driver; sang with Clara Ward Singers, Roberta Martin Singers, Beatrice Browns Inspirational Singers, and the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra; signed with Jubilee Records, 1954; signed with RCA, 1959; performed in nightclubs across the U.S.; made over 300 television guest appearances on popular talk and entertainment shows; guest host of The Tonight Show; host of her own variety show, Delia, 1969-70; guest star in numerous television shows, including The Mod Squad, Chico and the Man, Designing Women, L.A. Law, and Picket Fences; costar of television situation comedy The Royal Family, CBS, 1991-92; actress in films, including Lets Rock, The Distinguished Gentleman, and Harlem Nights; toured in revue Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues, beginning in 1992. Ordained minister, Universal Foundation for Better Living.

Awards: Named Most Promising Girl Singer of 1957; Emmy nomination for best supporting actress, 1977; Grammy nomination for best female soloistgospel, 1987; approved for star on Hollywood Walk of Fame; numerous gold records.

Addresses: Agent Lett Entertainment, 1910 Bel Air Rd., Los Angeles, CA 90077.

idea of making music her profession. She knew that making a career as a singer would mean performing popular music in nightclubs; this caused her some distress, since the extravagance and excesses she associated with club life clashed with her religious beliefs. Yet when the Reverend E. A. Rundless of Detroits New Liberty Baptist Church encouraged Reese to pursue a singing career, she put her reservations aside. A short time after Reese became a hostess-singer at a local bowling alley/nightclub, she won a contest in which newspaper readers voted for their favorite local singer. The prize was a week-long engagement at Detroits famous Flame Showbar.

At the time, Reese was married to Detroit factory worker Vermont Adolphus Bon Taliaferro. Because she could not fit her name on the nightclub marquee, she decided to shorten it to Pat Ferro. By the time her engagement at the Flame Showbar ended 18 weeks later, she had changed her name again. Dividing her first name into Della Reese, she created her professional name, one that would become synonymous with blues, jazz, and gospel music.

During her run at the Flame Showbar, Reese caught the attention of New York agent Lee Magid, who agreed to represent her. In 1953 Reese moved to New York to sing with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra. In the nine months she was with the orchestra, she further developed her vocal talents and style of delivery, alternating between blues, jump tunes, and Latin music.

In 1954 Reese signed a contract with Jubilee Records. Her first releases included Ive Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, Time After Time, and In the Stili of the Night, which sold 500,000 copies. Reeses first big hit, And That Reminds Me, sold over a million copies in 1957. She was soon voted The Most Promising Girl Singer of the year by Billboard, Cashbox, and Variety magazines, along with the Disc Jockeys of America and the Jukebox Operators Association.

Broke Into Television

With her recording success in full swing, Reese was in demand for national television appearances. She entertained viewers of the Perry Como, Jackie Gleason, Joey Bishop, and Ed Sullivan shows during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Appearances on the Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Pat Boone, and Hollywood Palace shows followed, as did radio performances. She toured the nightclub circuit and even landed a singing role in the 1958 Columbia film Lets Rock.

In 1959 Della Reese recorded her biggest hit, Dont You Know?, for RCA Victor. The success of this single, which was adapted from Italian composer Giacomo Puccinis opera La Bohème, led to nine years of performing in Las Vegas and more than three decades of recording successes for a variety of labels, including ABC-Paramount and AVCO-Embassy.

Reese became the first woman to stand in for Johnny Carson when she guest-hosted The Tonight Show. In 1969 she made history again, becoming the first black woman to host her own television program, a variety show titled Della, which was nationally syndicated by RKO in 1969 and 1970.

When Reeses television contract was not renewed, she resumed her nightclub performing. During her long career, she has entertained in many of the countrys top clubs, including such famous night spots as the Cocoanut Grove in Hollywood, the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Los Angeless Greek Theatre, and the Apollo Theatre and Copacabana, both in New York City. Reese has also toured internationally, performing at venues in Europe, Japan, and South America.

On October 3, 1980, at the age of 48, Reese was taping a segment for The Tonight Show when something went terribly wrong. I hit a horrendous notethe flattest Ive ever sung. My left knee buckled and I fell to the floor, she related in People magazine. An aneurysm, or weakened spot on an artery, had broken in her brain. On the brink of death for several days, Reese faced the reality that she might never make a full recovery. But her faith in God and the talents of a Canadian neurosurgeon pulled her through.

Reeses strong religious convictionsevident in the inclusion of spirituals in virtually all of her nightclub performancesprompted her to pursue ordination in the Universal Foundation for Better Living, an organization of 22 churches worldwide. Reese considers this step a glorious development in her spiritual life and maintains that without religion, her success in the fields of music and acting would not have been possible.

Expanded Acting Career

Since her television acting debut in 1968 as a disco owner on The Mod Squad, Reese has continued appearing on the small screen, singing on many shows, including The Love Boat, The Great American Gospel Show, and the Grand Ole Opry. Her acting talent is evident in the widely varied guest-starring roles she has landed over the years on such series as Sanford and Son, Police Story, Chico and the Man, The A Team, MacGyver, Night Court, Crazy Like a Fox, Young Riders, Designing Women, L.A. Law, and Picket Fences, in which she played a saucy but ailing blues legend who requires radical, experimental surgery. She even picked up an Emmy nomination for her appearance in Nightmare in Badham County. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Reese lamented the dearth of good meaty parts for women, especially black women over 60.

Reese credits her success as an actress to her experience as a live singer and nightclub performer. If you can make people believe your songs of blues and sadness, when you dont feel that way well, that takes acting ability I always knew I had, she was quoted as saying in a Lett Entertainment press release. Reese has also appeared on the big screen in Harlem Nights, which features a memorable fight scene with Eddie Murphy, and The Distinguished Gentleman, another Eddie Murphy production. And during the 1991-92 television season, she costarred in the CBS-TV hit The Royal Family. Although the death in 1991 of Redd FoxxReeses television husband in the seriescast doubt on the fate of the show, the plot was reworked and the situation comedy continued for the rest of the season.

Aside from her fame as an actress, Delia Reese continues her first lovesinging. Between tapings of television shows she performs in concert halls, in nightclubs, and at music festivals. In 1992 she starred in a new nightclub show created by her husband, Franklin Lett. Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues opened at the Cinegrill in Hollywood to rave reviews. Don Heckman commented in the Los Angeles Times, Reese genuinely appeared to be enjoying every minute. Reaching out, pulling her audience into the music, asking them to share both the pleasure and the passion of her experience, she was an irresistible spokeswoman for the joys and tears of the blues.

Selected discography

Ive Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, Jubilee, c. 1955.

Time After Time, Jubilee, c. 1955.

In the Still of the Night, Jubilee, c. 1956.

One More Time, ABC-Paramount, 1956.

And That Reminds Me, Jubilee, 1957.

A Date with Dellaat Mr. Kellys, Jubilee, 1958.

Della by Starlight, RCA Victor, 1960.

Della, Della, Cha Cha Cha, RCA Victor, 1960.

I Like It Like Dat, ABC-Paramount, c. 1960.

Special Delivery, Della Reese, RCA Victor, 1961.

Della on Stage, RCA Victor, 1962.

The Classic Della, RCA Victor, 1962.

Waltz With Me, Della, RCA Victor, 1963.

Three Great Girls, RCA Victor, 1963.

Della Reese at Basin Street East, RCA Victor, 1964.

Cmon and Hear, ABC-Paramount, 1965, reissued, Pickwick, 1978.

Moody, Della Reese, RCA Victor, 1965.

On Strings of Blue, ABC-Paramount, 1967.

The Best of Della Reese, RCA Victor, 1972.

Let Me in Your Life, Lee Magid, 1972.

Della Reese, ABC-Paramount, 1976.

One of a Kind, Jazz a la Carte, 1978.

Hush, Somebodys Callin My Name, CUT, 1979.

Sure Like Lovin You, Della Reese (Applause), 1983.

Della Reese and Brilliance, AIR Co., 1987.

Black Is Beautiful, AVCO-Embassy.

What Do You Know About Love?, Jubilee.

Amen, Jubilee.

The Story of the Blues, Jubilee.

Sources

Black Elegance, July 1992.

Ebony, May 1989.

Jet, December 9, 1991; July 5, 1993.

Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1992.

Melody Maker, August 29, 1987.

New York Sunday News, December 29, 1957.

People, May 19, 1980.

Variety November 18, 1981; May 7, 1986.

Village Voice, March 16, 1982.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from a Lett Entertainment press release, 1992, and an interview featured on Entertainment Tonight, ABC-TV, April 29, 1993.

Sandy J. Stiefer and Jeanne M. Lesinski

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