When Della Reese was 13, she was hired to sing with Mahalia Jackson's gospel group — and that was the start of a long career in entertainment. Early on, she was voted most promising singer by Billboard, Cashbox and Variety, and she received a Grammy nomination for her 1960 album, “Della.” She had numerous top 100 hits and even reached No. 2 on the pop charts with the song "Don't You Know" / "Soldier, Won't You Marry Me?"
After years of singing as a guest on shows, Reese began making the transition to being a bigger part of them — as an actress, host and so on. She became the first black female to host "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," and she appeared in numerous high-profile miniseries, including "The House of Yes" and "Roots: The Next Generations." She also had memorable roles on the shows "Chico and the Man" and "The A-Team" and the film "Harlem Nights," the last of which produced a pretty funny fight scene with costar Eddie Murphy.
But it may have been CBS' "Touched by an Angel" that garnered the actress the most attention. As angels, Reese and costar Roma Downey explored religion from 1994 to 2002. Downey and Reese also created a special bond off screen and continued to be friends.
Reese died Nov. 19, 2017, at her home in Encino, Calif. She was 86.