Della Reese (July 6, 1931-November 19, 2017) began singing in a junior gospel choir at the Olivet Baptist Church in her hometown of Detroit. When famed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson came to the city, she picked Reese, then 13, to replace a member of her troupe, and was so impressed by the teenager's voice that she enlisted her for a summer tour.
Later, performing at nightclubs, she was signed to sing with Erskine Hawkins' orchestra, and would eventually record more than two dozen jazz and gospel albums, with her biggest hits including "And That Reminds Me," "Don't You Know?" and "Not One Minute More."
She was a groundbreaker on TV, being the first African-American woman to host her own talk show, "Della," (1969-70), and the first black woman to serve as a guest host for Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show." But after suffering a brain aneurysm, she turned to acting, appearing on "Chico and the Man," ''Charlie and Company" and "The Royal Family," before finding her greatest success starring in the CBS series "Touched by an Angel" as the wise angel Tess.
Her other TV credits included "Night Court," ''L.A. Law," ''Designing Women," "Welcome Back, Kotter," ''The A Team," ''MacGyver" ''The Love Boat" and "That's So Raven." She also appeared in the films "Harlem Nights" and "Beauty Shop."
"I've had a hard climb, but I was meant to have longevity," she once said. "People don't have to stop and say, 'Whatever happened to Della Reese?' Here I am!'"