That’s how she spelled it, originally. “Delloreese Patricia Early,” says the Official Record. At 13, she got a gig with Mahalia Jackson’s gospel group, which was a big deal for a smallish young woman from Detroit. By 1950, she’d foreshortened her name to “Della Reese,” and she took up the fine art of jazz. And in 1957, she got a fair-sized pop hit with “And That Reminds Me,” an Italian instrumental with some post-hoc English lyrics:
Amazingly, the Four Seasons covered “And That Reminds Me” in 1969, reaching (barely) the Top 50.
Starting around 1970, she added “actress” to her CV; she did dozens of guest shots and in 1994 signed for a lightly regarded TV series called Touched By an Angel. It was canceled after 11 episodes; tons of letters from fans got it a reprieve, and it ran for 200 more episodes.
And I can’t let this go by without “Don’t You Know,” the adaptation of “Musetta’s Waltz” from act two of Puccini’s La Bohème that became Della’s biggest hit in 1959. This salvaged-from-somewhere recording features a latter-day Duke Ellington orchestra:
“The right height for you?” Well, she was only five foot two, but she never sounded small.
She retired from performing in 2014, and died this week at 86.