Published on December 4th, 2017 | by Inspirations with Liz Black
The Inspiration – Della Reese
A renaissance woman who crossed many genres anchored by her beginnings in Gospel music, Della Reese maneuvered through the arts and entertainment with a seeming fluidity that swayed back forth. Having begun her life and career in church singing Gospel music, she weaved in an out of the sacred and secular worlds at a pace that was her own.
Born Deloreese Patricia Early in Detroit, Michigan, on July 6, 1931, Reese began to sing in church at the age of 6 at Mount Olivet Baptist Church. As she got older Della briefly sing with the Clara Ward singers and by the age of 13, found herself singing for several summers with the luminary Mahalia Jackson.
During a panel discussion in her later years, Della affectionately gave the audience a glimpse into her relationship with Mahalia Jackson. Telling briefly of her mother’s respect for and expectation of Mahalia as Della’s guardian while on the road, Della let the audience know how seriously Mahalia took the role. As the pillar standing between her and “the boys”, Mahalia echoed that same fortitude in exemplifying humility for the young Della. From their experience, Della was doubly humbled by Mahalia’s ability to affect a congregation after Della vocally challenged her which was followed by Della witnessing Mahalia silently asking God to “Come up through me, to me. Let me express like you want me to.” The lesson was in the action and the young Della took it through her life.
While studying psychology at Wayne State University, Reese formed the gospel group the Meditation Singers. The group was one of the first acts to bring gospel music to the nightclubs of Las Vegas. After going solo and reaching Pop music success, Della initially stayed connected to The Meditation Singers and released an album on Jubilee Records titled “Della Reese Presents the Mediation Singers”. She also recorded Thomas Dorsey’s “Hush Somebody’s Calling My Name” from her 1998 album “My Soul Feels Better Right Now”.
Primarily known as a pop singer, Ms. Reese found success in this realm. During her Pop years, Reese signed with RCA Records, received a Grammy nomination for her 1960 album, “Della” and the signature song from it, “Don’t You Know” struck at No. 2 on Billboard Hot 100. The song was adapted from Puccini’s music for the opera La and also her a Grammy nomination. She also maintained a plethora of 100 hits under her belt. The ebb to her Pop flow was her Grammy nominations for Female Soul Gospel Performance (“You Gave Me Love”) and Traditional Soul Gospel Album (“Live! My Soul Feels Better Right Now”).
In various ways throughout her life, Della found her balance with securing and expressing the divine. Ordained a minister in 1987, The Reverend Della Reese resided over and was founder of Understanding Principles for Better Living Church. The television series “Touched By an Angel” had been the touchstone of her legacy and it was a space where speaking and singing the sacred was embraced. By 1969, Reese began hosting a TV talk/variety show called Della enabling her to become the first black woman to host her own variety show. She also became the first woman to serve as guest host of The Tonight Show. Her t.v. and film credits would abound with notable and memorable roles in The Mod Squad, 227, Roots: The Next Generations, Charlie & CO., Chico and the Man, The Love Boat, Sanford and Son, The Royal Family and Harlem Nights.
Della’s indelible mark in entertainment is reflected in the many works of today from t.v. shows starring Gospel greats, talk shows hosted by Black women and robust singing and film careers by our favorite performers who move between the secular and sacred creative realms. And for these reasons, the Reverend Deloreese Patricia aka Della Reese is the inspiration.
Series that explores the historic relationship between Gospel music, inspirational music and other genres. The Inspiration aims to give voice to the complexity of how Gospel, inspirational music is created and has come to be.