Delloreese Patricia Early, known professionally as Della Reese, is an American actress, singer, game show panelist of the 1970s, one-time talk-show hostess and ordained minister. She started her career in the 1950s as a gospel, pop and jazz singer, scoring a hit with her 1959 single "Don't You Know?" In her four decades of acting, she later gained a whole new generation of fans, in the 1990s, playing Tess, the leading role on the television show Touched by an Angel. In the late 1960s, she hosted her own talk show, Della, which ran for 297 episodes. In more recent times, she became an ordained New Thought minister in the Understanding Principles for Better Living Church in Los Angeles, California.
Reese was born Deloreese Patricia Early in Detroit, Michigan to African American steelworker, Richard Thaddeus Early, and Nellie Mitchelle, a Native American cook. Deloreese's mother also had several older children, before her birth, all of whom didn't live with her, hence, she was an only child. At only six years old, she began singing in church. From this experience, she became an avid Gospel singer. As a young lady of the 1940s, on the weekends, she and her mother would go to the movies, independently, to watch the likes of: Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Lena Horne, each of whom had portrayed glamourous lives on-screen. After each movie, she would act out the scenes taken from every single film. In 1944, she began her career directing the young people's choir, after she'd nurtured acting plus her obvious musical talent. She was often chosen on radio, as a regular singer. At the age of thirteen, she was hired to sing with Mahalia Jackson's Gospel group. Upon entering Detroit's popular Cass Technical High School. At Cass Tech, she was a brilliant, no-nonsense student. She also continued with her touring with Jackson. With higher grades, she was the first in her family to graduate from high school in 1947, at only 15. Afterwards, she formed her own gospel group called the Meditation Singers. However, due in part to the death of her mother, and her father's serious illness, Reese had to interrupt her schooling at Wayne State University to help support her family. Faithful to the memory of Deloreese's memory of her mother, she also moved out of her father's house, due to her feuding with her father, who had a new girlfriend. She then took on odd jobs such as: truck driver, dental receptionist, even elevator operator, after 1949.
Early soon performed in clubs, she also realized that she didn't have a choice other than to shortened her name from Deloreese Early to the more clearly Della Reese, knowing that it was too big for one's club marquee.
Reese was discovered by the Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Reese's big break came when she won a contest, which gave her a week to sing at Detroit's well-known and talked-about Flame Show bar. Reese remained there for eight weeks. Although her roots were in Gospel music, she now was being exposed to and influenced by such great jazz artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday. In 1953, she signed a recording contract with Jubilee Records, for which she recorded six albums. Later that same year, she also joined the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra. Her first recordings for Jubilee were songs such as "In the Still of the Night," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," and "Time After Time." Although the EP didn't enter the charts, it sold 500,000 copies, and the songs were later included on the 1959 album "And That Reminds Me."