Diaspora: Della Reese – Touched By an Angel
One program on television that left an indelible mark in the minds of lovers all around the world is undoubtedly, Touched by an Angel. The cache for many is the impactful storylines and the beautiful commanding voice of the Lead Angel, Tess, played by Della Reese. I, for one, drew inspiration from the angels and their creed not to interfere with the lives of humans yet opening your eyes to see alternatives to life, this lesson is one that has helped me in life, belief! Belief that there is always a way out of any circumstances of life, and that also is the life of Della Reese! This much she expressed, “My mother was a personal friend of God’s. I lived on her faith. I was trained on her faith. For example, I was born in 1931, in the middle of a depression. Two years later I had rheumatic fever and they told my mother I was going to die—I was not a well child. My mother just stood on her faith and trusted in God and kept saying, “My baby’s going to live.” I’m now 84, so what she was doing must have been right.
By Cosmas Onyenuforo
Born Delloreese Early in 1931 to Richard Early, who was a steel worker, ladies’ man and a gambler and Nellie Mitchelle Early, a Cherokee cook, Della Reese began singing in church in her hometown of Detroit when she was six years old. Her vocal ability quickly attracted the attention of gospel great Mahalia Jackson, who hired Della as a back-up singer, Della was only 13. This early introduction to the world of gospel entertainment set the stage for Della’s own music legacy that has now spanned six decades and includes multiple Grammy Award nominations.
Her mother, Nellie, died in 1949, of a cerebral hemorrhage and after lots of feuds with her father, after her mother’s passing, she moved out of the house, at age 18. She graduated from Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Michigan, in 1947, at only 15 years old to become the first in her family to graduate early. She intended to major in Psychiatry at Wayne State University, but a personal setback ended her plans. As a teenager, she was often chosen as a featured singer on radio. In 1953 she signed a singing contract with Jubilee Records, her first and later went on to sign a recording contract with RCA Records in 1957. She formed a choir in Detroit called The Meditation Singers.
Before she was a successful actress, she did everything from a very young age from directing a young people’s choir in church, to being a truck driver, to being a dental receptionist, to that of a switchboard girl. Undeterred, Della held onto her dream and pursued her passion relentlessly, she became the first African-American actress to host a talk show long before Oprah Winfrey who was later to honour her at her Legends Ball ceremony along with 25 other African-American women, in 2005.
A woman accustomed to the varied vicissitudes of life, Della was struck with Diabetes, she was more than prepared for the challenge, “When I found out I had Type 2 diabetes, I was upset because I knew nothing about the condition and had nothing to fight it with. So I sought out as much information and support as I could,” the entertainer explained. “I talked to my doctor about an aggressive diabetes management plan that includes eating right and staying active. In my case medication was necessary, as well.” “My home is heaven, but I’m not homesick,” Reese reiterated. Taking the bull by the horn, For the first time in her life, Reese says she is exercising every day and eating smaller portions.“I’m proof that you can take control of your life. You can be stronger than diabetes,” Reese said. “I lost 20 pounds and lowered my blood sugar from between 275 and 300 to between 67 and 110.” And that was the message of hope she portrayed in every episode of her popular tv series, ‘Touched by an Angel’. The success of the series seems unbelievable for a woman who got into acting at age 36 and started her show at 63 but that is what you get when an angel’s faith is put to work. The tv series is one that captures you right from the theme song, “Walk With You” to the end of each episode.
She’s been in countless movies and played many memorable roles like in “Touched By An Angel” and the unforgettable comedy, “Harlem Knights.” In addition to her acting and singing achievements, Della is an ordained minister with an active congregation in Los Angeles, where she works to inspire young people to pursue their dreams.
“Everything that I have asked God for that was for my highest good,” explains Reese. “He made arrangements for me to have it. Sometimes I have to go through stuff, but I find that’s a learning process—you go through obstacles and when you get to the other side you’re stronger than you were when you started through the obstacle.” Della’s life is an epitome of inspiration for a woman who her doctors never thought she would make it this far when she was born, she is really an angel whose life and works exudes motivation for this generation. She has 7 hobbies: singing, watching movies, spending time with her family, reading the Bible, swimming, cooking and playing games, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add an eighth hobby, touching lives!
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