Singer and actress Della Reese has died. The Detroit native was 86 years old. Reese grew up in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood and started singing in church. She was later asked by gospel star Mahalia Jackson to join her tour.
Detroit historian Ken Coleman says Delloreese Patricia Early broke up her first name to create the stage name Della Reese.
She became a recording star in the 1950s. Coleman says, “And That Reminds Me,” was a top 20 pop hit.
Coleman says Reese made a name at the Flame Show Bar in Detroit. The bar, located at John R and Canfield, attracted national talent, but Coleman says local talent also regularly played at the venue.
He says, “Della Reese is one of the people who often on bills at the Flame Show Bar during that time. She became a regular there in the early 1950s, and that helped launch her career.”
Coleman says she transitioned to television in the 1960s.
“She hosted her own television talk show in 1969, which was sort of uncommon for African-Americans.”
In the 1980s, she co-starred in the CBS television show Touched By An Angel and had a memorable part in the 1989 movie Harlem Nights.
Coleman says has had a lasting impact on Detroit. He says, “She is one of many people made a way really out of no way.”
“(She was) raised in a proud but challenged community in Black Bottom and went on to do great things.”