Della Reese, the musical icon and legendary actress who starred in ‘Touched By An Angel’, passed away Sunday evening her family confirms. She was 86.

“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 surrounded by love. She was an incredible Wife, Mother, Grandmother, friend, and Pastor, as well as an award-winning actress and singer,” actress Roma Downey, Reese’s co-star on “Touched by an Angel,” said in a statement on Facebook.
“Through her life and work she touched and inspired the lives of millions of people,” Downey’s statement continued. “She was a mother to me and I had the privilege of working with her side by side for so many years.”

Born Delloreese Patricia Early on July 6, 1931 in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood, Reese began singing at just 6 years old at her local church, establishing her roots in gospel music. Her vocal talent would flourish and by 13 she was tapped to perform with Mahalia Jackson’s gospel group, with whom she’d later tour.

She would later go on to form her own, the Meditation Singers, in the late 1940s. But being exposed to jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan sparked a desire to broaden her musical horizons. Now using her famous stage name, she signed a deal with Jubilee Records in 1953, releasing six albums largely composed of jazz standards.

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Though a singing prowess, acting would propel Reese into the big time. After her first gig as the landlady in 1970s comedy “Chico and man”, lead her into roles that would show off her sass, including Vera, in Eddie Murphy’s 1989 Harlem Nights. She continued to star in various films and television, landing the role as “Tess” a “supervising angel” on “Touched By An Angel” which ran for 11 seasons.

Reese battled health problems later in life, including diabetes which she blamed on poor diet and exercise. Following two appearances on the television show Signed, Sealed, Delivered in 2014, she retired from acting.

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