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.

A very young Della Reese

Della Reese waves

Della Reese with her book Angels Along the Way

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.


  1. McGehee »

    21 November 2017 · 11:49 pm

    Truly a loss.

  2. Holly H »

    22 November 2017 · 8:11 am

    That is fantastic, that she performed until age 84. Wow.

  3. The Other McCain »

    26 November 2017 · 10:39 pm

    Rule 5 Sunday: The Treasury Secretary’s Wife

    At Dustbury, it’s Della Reese and Deepika Padukone.

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