Della Reese, gospel singer/tv star has joined the angels, dead at 86

Della Reese

Della Reese, jazz/gospel/pop singer and star of CBS hit series Touched by an Angel passed away on Nov. 19 at the age of 86. Her impressive career spanned more than sixty years and covered many genres including entertainment, philanthropy and ministry projects.  She will be missed.

Health issues were said to have plagued her for the past few years, mostly associated with complications due to type 2 diabetes as reported in PEOPLE.

“On behalf of her husband, Franklin Lett, and all her friends and family, I share with you the news that our beloved Della Reese has passed away peacefully at her California home last evening surrounded by love. She was an incredible wife, mother, grandmother, friend, and pastor, as well as an award-winning actress and singer. Through her life and work she touched and inspired the lives of millions of people,” her costar Roma Downey confirmed to PEOPLE in an exclusive statement.

Reese was born in Detroit, Michigan and began singing in church when she was a child.  At 13, she joined Mahalia Jackson's gospel group, but she didn’t let her singing interfere with her studies.  She graduated from high school at only 15-years-old, becoming the first in her family to achieve that.

She created her own singing group called the Meditation Singers.  She started making the transition from gospel to jazz.  She was huge in the nightclub scene.  She had signed with Jubilee and recorded six albums featuring many beloved jazz standards with them. In 1959, she had a hit with single “Don’t You Know.”

TV and film pursuits came her way in the 60s.   She hosted her own talk show aptly titled Della and worked steadily as a guest star in shows such as The Mod Squad, The Love Boat and Sanford in Son.  She even was in an episode of The A Team playing B.A. Baracus’ (Mr. T) mother.  She starred in Harlem Nights with Redd Foxx and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate with Martin Lawrence.

In 1994, she landed her most famous acting role as Tess in the religious supernatural show Touched by an Angel that she would star in until 2003. She appeared in two episodes of  Sealed, Delivered in 2014 and then retired from acting.

She became an ordained minister in 1980s.

She is survived by children James, Franklin and Dominique, and husband Franklin Lett.

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