Earlier in November, singer, performer and actor Della Reese died. The Hollywood legend started her illustrious career in the '50s as a jazz singer, and was best known for her starring role on the CBS dramaTouched by an Angel. She was an incredible force of empowerment and a staple of inspiration for many Black history connoisseurs, and although many people know her mostly for her many acting roles in movies and television like Vera in Harlem Nights and Ma Wright in A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Reese's introduction into Hollywood started with her voice. With her roots in gospel, Reese became a secular music star with her No. 1 R&B and No. 2 pop hit "Don't You Know" in 1959. At such a young age, the singer proved she was a force to be reckoned with, and these videos of young Della Reese singing are a reminder of how incredible her career would later turn out to be.
For many singers, Reese's impressive vocal style, which ranged from the styling of American standard music from the early '50 and '60s to the nitty snazzy vocal dynamics of old time gospel and jazz spirituals, has always been an inspiration. Her talent was simply extraordinary, and her voice cannot be imitated. A perfect example of her vocal fierceness, shown at such a young age, is her song "Someday (You'll Want Me to Want You)". It displays the fullness of Reese's vocal presence and even today feels like a great way to throw shade at anyone who rejected you romantically or simply didn't give you the respect you deserved, but is trying to make things right now.
In 1953, Reese signed with Jubilee Records, where she recorded the hit ballad "And That Reminds Me," which was one of her first chart successes, according to a Variety report. This song and its success helped Reese be deemed one of the most promising singers by Cashbox early on in her career. She later went on to receive a Grammy nomination for her 1960 album, Della. Many of her songs from that album reached the Top 100 hits lists and her song "Don't You Know?", which was based on music from Puccini’s opera La Bohème, with RCA records, reached No. 2 on the pop charts in 1959. The song sold over one million copies, and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Reese recorded music throughout the 1960s, releasing The Classic Della in 1962 and Waltz with Me, Della just a few years later, in 1963. She also spent most of her time during the '60s traveling across the country, and she even performed in Las Vegas for nine years. Due to her musical inspiration and talent, Reese became the first Black woman to have her own television variety show in 1969 called Della, which was eventually canceled after an impressive 197 episodes.
Reese continued to release music well into the start of the '70s, with her tunes covering a plethora of genres such as jazz, contemporary pop, American standards, and R&B. Over the course of her musical and acting careers, Reese received four Grammy Award nominations, and became the legend she's known as today by so many people.
From her many outstanding musical performances to her powerful work on the big screen, Della Reese was a renaissance woman, who even at a young age, was a class act of timeless beauty and talent. Reese will surely be missed by so many, but thankfully, we have all these lovely videos to remind us how talented and groundbreaking she truly was.