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Della Reese, Star Of TV’s ‘Touched By An Angel,’ Dies At 86

Della Reese

Della Reese who enjoyed dual careers, first as a jazz and pop singer and later as a TV star on CBS’ Touched By An Angel, has died at age 86.

Her representative, Lynda Bensky, confirmed her death to USA TODAY, noting, “We lost a magnificent woman who was a trailblazer in many ways.”

A statement sent to USA TODAY from her Touched by An Angel co-star, Roma Downey, and Reese’s family said the star “passed away peacefully at her California home last evening (Nov. 19)  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.”

Before Touched by an Angel debuted in 1994, Reese was mainly known as a singer, although she had costarred on Chico and the Man, Charlie and Company and The Royal Family and hosted her own talk show, Della.

She appeared on numerous shows such as Night Court, L.A. Law and Designing Women, but wrote in her 1997 autobiography that she had difficulty being typecast until she landed her Touched by an Angel role.

Touched by an Angel struggled with ratings in its first season, but the show grew to become one of television’s highest-rated dramas. The show followed an apprentice angel (Roma Downey) and her supervisor (Reese) who were sent to Earth to solve people’s problems.

“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,” wrote Downey on Instagram Monday (Nov. 20). “I know heaven has a brand new angel this day. Della Reese will be forever in our hearts.”

Reese’s singing career began in church, when she joined the junior gospel choir at the Olivet Baptist Church at the age of six in her hometown of Detroit. Soon she was singing at other churches, at civic events and on the radio.

When Mahalia Jackson, known as The Queen of Gospel Music, came to Detroit, she needed a singer to replace a member of her troupe. She turned to Reese, who was only 13.

Jackson was so impressed by the teenager’s voice that she enlisted her for a summer tour, and Reese went on to tour with her for five summers. 

The singer went on to form her own group, the Meditation Singers, in the late 1940s and signed a deal with Jubilee Records in 1953, with whom she released six albums largely composed of jazz standards.

In 1957, Reese earned national fame thanks to her song And That Reminds Me, followed by her signature hit, Don’t You Know?

Other hits included Not One Minute More, And Now, Someday (You’ll Want Me to Want You) and The Most Beautiful Words.

Her last television appearance was in two episodes of the 2014 Hallmark Channel show, Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

Reese is survived by her husband, Franklin Lett, and three children.

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Phyllis Coley
Phyllis D. Coley is CEO/Publisher of Spectacular Magazine and Host of Spectacular Magazine Radio Show. With a B.A. in English from NCCU, the Durham native began her professional career as Promotions/Marketing Director for New York City’s WKTU-FM. While at the radio station, Coley discovered the rap group Kid ‘n Play and managed them for five years, guiding their music and movie careers to success. Moving back to Durham, Coley produced a nationally syndicated television show, The Electric Factory, while working as News Director for FOXY 107/104. In April 2002, recognizing a void in highlighting the achievements of African Americans, she started her own business publishing ACE Magazine. Coley launched Spectacular Magazine in November 2004. Recognizing the lack of pertinent and truthful information, Coley began Spectacular Magazine Radio Show in March 2009. Coley is the organizer of Durham's Annual MLK/Black History Month Parade and the Annual North Carolina Juneteenth Celebration. She currently serves on Central Children’s Home Board of Directors, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Advisors, as Immediate Past Secretary of the Durham Rotary Club Board of Directors and is one of the founding members of the Triangle United Way’s African American Leadership Initiative.

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