Della Reese who went from jazz and R&B superstar to a successful actress has dies at the age of 83. The beautiful Reese died at her home in California. Reese is most famously known for her leading role on the TV show 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,” actress Roma Downey, Reese’s co-star on “Touched By an Angel,” said in a statement announcing Reese’s death. “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.”
Like homegrown R&B superstar Jackie Wilson, Reese received prominent exposure during an engagement at Detroit’s Flame Show Bar; her style reflected the influence of such jazz precursors as Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald.
Signed to Jubilee Records, the indie New York label that launched the doo-wop acts the Orioles and the Cadillacs, Reese scored her first chart success with the 1957 ballad “And That Reminds Me,” which reached No. 12 on the U.S. pop chart.
That song secured her a contract with RCA. She secured the biggest hit of her career out of the box with “Don’t You Know,” and followed it up in 1960 with the similarly styled “Not One Minute More” (No. 16 pop, No. 13 R&B). Her top-charting LP was “Della,” which climbed to No. 35 in ’60.
Though other major chart hits eluded her, Reese recorded prolifically – frequently in a jazz style, and frequently in a live club setting – for RCA and ABC through the ‘60s. She was a popular attraction on the Las Vegas Strip during this era.
Reese got her first acting break from casting director Reuben Cannon, who offered her a guest shot on the youth-oriented cop show “The Mod Squad” in 1968. Roles on such skeins as “Police Woman,” “The Rookies” and “McCloud” followed.
The first series to show off her tart style to full advantage was “Chico and the Man,” in which she portrayed star Albertson’s landlady. The hit NBC show reached an abrupt end with co-star Prinze’s suicide in January 1977.
She subsequently was a familiar player on such successful series as “Welcome Back, Kotter,” “The Love Boat,” “The A-Team” (on which she guested as star Mr. T’s mother), “Night Court,” “MacGyver,” “Designing Women” and “L.A. Law.”
However, it was “Touched by an Angel” that cemented her TV stardom. With co-star Roma Downey, Reese, portraying the acerbic, Cadillac-driving supervising angel Tess, ministered to the spiritual needs of her earthbound “search and rescue cases.” Reese also performed the show’s theme song, “Walk With You.”