Della Reese, the woman best known for playing Tess on the television drama Touched by an Angel has passed on. She was 86 years old.
The series ran for an incredible nine seasons on CBS. It followed Reese’s character as she sent angels to Earth in order to help people in need of redemption. In a statement, CBS commented that with Reese’s death, “another angel has gotten her wings.” Reese’s co-star on Touched by an Angel, Roma Downey, also released a statement about Reese’s impact.
Reese was also successful in the music business. Her career began when she was just 13 years old, but she had been singing long before that. It was during her childhood in the black church that she found a love of music.
Her first gig was with the iconic gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. She landed the role largely by happenstance. One of the other lyric sopranos in Jackson’s backup had become pregnant and couldn’t tour.
Reese had first assumed that singing with Jackson would be a way out of her mother’s strict oversight. Unfortunately, she discovered that Jackson didn’t tolerate acting out, so her time touring involved much less freedom.
After finding success with Jackson, Reese began recording with the label Jubilee Records. One of her top-charting songs with the label was the 1957 hit “And That Reminds Me.” Later, Reese moved to RCA. Her most popular songs there were the R&B songs “Don’t You Know” and “Not One Minute More.” However, Reese had also found success as a jazz singer.
Before Touched by an Angel, Reese starred in several films. She appeared as Vera in the 1989 Eddie Murphy comedy Harlem Nights alongside her friend Redd Foxx.
In addition to her work on film and television, Reese was also a pastor.