AA Legacy Series Spotlight on Della Reese

Continuing the AA Legacy Series for (Black) Women’s History Month, I want to highlight the actress and singer we know as Della Reese (clink the link for a video tribute). I was conducting research online and found the Della Reese dot com address but it’s not something she’s running. It’s more than a little creepy that someone other than Della Reese seems to own that domain name (they have it listed as a shell website) but at least they posted two videos of her.

I’m loathe to tout the 1st black to do x,y, z but in the case of these women trailblazers, the distinction is notable. I’m not going to do an entire career retrospective either. There’s a nice YouTube Channel that has her extensive archives. See the Della Reese Channel for video performances and clips that span her career. She has an autobiography, Angels Along The Way worth the read. In fact, I recommend everyone read all of the various career retrospectives, biographies and autobiographies of every black woman over the age of 45. There is much to learn.

In the 1950’s and onward she had established herself as a popular singer and actress.

In 1970, Reese became the first black woman to guest host The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. She has appeared in various roles on episodic television.

In the 1990’s Reese portrayed the angel Tess on the CBS drama Touched By An Angel which is probably what most of us may immediately recall.

Her career as an entertainer has been well-established. What many probably don’t know is that she has been an ordained New Thought minister for decades. Since 1987 Della Reese has led the UP Church (Understanding Principles for Better Living) in Los Angeles. This was why I wanted to feature her. Many readers who may be more familiar with a typical Black Church interpretation of Christianity might dismiss her practice as suspect.

Religious Science from Wikipedia

Religious Science, also known as Science of Mind, was founded in 1927 by Ernest Holmes (1887–1960) and is a spiritual, philosophical and metaphysical religious movement within the New Thought movement. In general, the term “Science of Mind” applies to the teachings, while the term “Religious Science” applies to the organizations. However, adherents often use the terms interchangeably. Ernest Holmes stated “Religious Science is a correlation of laws of science, opinions of philosophy, and revelations of religion applied to human needs and the aspirations of man.” He also stated that Religious Science/Science of Mind (RS/SOM) is not based on any “authority” of established beliefs, but rather on “what it can accomplish” for the people who practice it.

You might also be interested in researching:

  • New Thought
  • Metaphysics/Metaphysical Christianity

I’m mentioning this as something many black women who may not consider themselves religious, burned (or burned out by) religion, fake religiosity and the subjugation of women may want to explore this as an alternative or addition. There are many women leaders part of the New Thought practice. I also appreciate the emphasis on self-reflection and working on thought patterns.

There was a time I would have (and did) outright reject any such philosophies as (some form of) heresy, but now I think it was the long arm of indoctrination that influenced my refusal to even look into it. It’s something else to consider….

The Rev Dr. is also very good friends with Dr. Maya Angelou. I really wanted to share this particular podcast from her ministry radio show Hello, Reverend Della Speaking on Unity FM.

#5 Faith with Dr. Maya Angelou — The first 20 minutes are a goldmine!!

She discusses her early career, touring with Mahalia Jackson, wanting to advise the “young singers of today” and them rejecting it, her reciprocal and abiding friendship with Maya defined and other tidbits that had me at hello

If the good Rev. Dr. Reese-Lett wants to impart some wisdom at this forum, especially given she’s lived a full life, has had many experiences and at 81 years old is still energetic and vibrant, please do!

I WILL LISTEN!!!

~~~Before commenting I seriously urge all of the readers to listen to the podcast. It was amazing.

*******

You might be interested in:

It’s Black Women’s History Month Ya’ll!

AA Legacy Series Spotlight on Ethel Waters

25 Replies to “AA Legacy Series Spotlight on Della Reese”

  1. Somehow I missed this segment. I adore Della Reese. Ms. Reese is intelligent, has class and is still very well respected.

  2. Thank you for highlighting her and for providing the link to the Della Reese channel. She is an amazing woman who I have always admired.

    1. Nia, I highly recommend listening to ALL of her podcasts because she is offering million dollar information in my opinion that will help many black women in particular.

  3. Faith,

    I finished listening to the episode with Maya Angelou as the guest—it was wonderful, and the warmth one could feel between those two long-term friends was truly heartwarming. Not to mention that Rev. Della's tale about how she—through the foolishness and arrogance of being a teenager—mistakenly thought she was going to "best" Mahalia with her own singing was hilarious and spiritually deep.

    It's a shame, but as you noted, that sort of wisdom will soon be lost to the vast majority of AAs as AA women in that age group continue to pass away. In one sense, that's what AAs collectively deserve because nobody can tell most modern, new-school-type AAs anything. And new-school types will continue to suffer for their arrogance.

    The foolish colored girl music "artists" who refused to listen to Rev. Della will have careers that won't last even 1/4th as long as Della Reese's.

    I'm just thankful I've had the opportunity to listen while some of our matriarchs like Rev. Dr. Della are still around.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Yes, her discussion about how Mahalia didn't even bother to get up out of her chair when she "called on the spirit" to sing had me floored! I'm so glad she shared that. It was as if she was encapsulating her life for all of us to hear about. In another podcast she discusses how her mother took on side jobs (cleaning, cooking, laundering) as per what was available to many women back then to help her father. She was referencing those under and unemployed to find something, anything to do until they got back on their feet.

  4. The podcast, for whatever reason, is not playing on my computer SOOOO I subscribed to the podcast so I can listen at work!

    I remember hearing about Della Reese being a minister a few years back, but of course, it was by those folks that claimed she was a heathen and turned her back on God. Whatev. I didn't investigate further, unfortunately.

    Thanks for sharing Rev. Dr. Reese! I'm looking forward to reading more about her.

    1. This is AWESOME! While it's still quite here in the office, I am listening to the show. I downloaded a few more so I'll have something positive and encouraging to take me through my day.

      "Sometimes, you need God with some flesh on it!" I don't know WHY, but the way she said that gave me the fit of giggles! LOL But it's soo true, to me, at least. There have been times when I questioned my faith and God because I needed him to be tangible, real to me. But Rev saying that, it made sense!

      1. Jacquie, I'm glad you enjoyed the podcast. I'm going through the entire archives and will probably listen to them more than once.

  5. Part 2

    Over the past year, it finally sank in to me that the mindsets and mental habits I'm most comfortable with are what brought me and KEEP me in my present circumstances. That's fine and dandy for right now. But those habitual thought patterns are insufficient for the sorts of lifestyle changes that I want to make.

    So, I'm becoming more willing to expand my mental habit comfort zone. And more willing to investigate some other ways of viewing the world.

    I want to make a successfu, sustainable, and enduring transition from being an Overly Responsible Worker Drone to Digital Nomad-Free Spirit. That means making some deep-seated changes in my thought patterns. And I'm finding that some of the New Thought materials are helpful with that. So, I look forward to browsing through Rev. Reese-Lett's body of work.

  6. Part 1

    Faith,

    Thank you for mentioning Rev. Dr. Della Reese-Lett's podcast. I had no idea that she had a ministry. I'm going to listen to several of her podcasts to see what sorts of things she's saying (including the specific episode you mentioned).

    And thank you for mentioning New Thought. Even though I'm usually quite resistant to even bothering to explore those sorts of materials, I've come to have a change of heart about that rigid posture.

    1. Khadija, there are three podcasts on faith but I really appreciated the discussion with Dr. Angelou. There's also one between the Rev. Dr. and actress Roma Downey (her co-star on Touched By An Angel). They discussed their personal relationship as chosen mother-daughter and it was so profound. The mutual respect was very refreshing. Now, the recorded volume of the show is high so you may want to adjust your computer's volume to compensate. I also didn't know Dr. Angelou was a New Thought practioner as well. It's something for all of us who want to adapt new models that benefit us to consider incorporating.

  7. Faith, THANK YOU for sharing this resource. Ms. Reese has so much wisdom, wow. She's been here the whole time I didn't know. I've very recently been raising my standards of the blogs/media I consume and needed some new things/resources and this fit the bill perfectly.

    1. Zoopath -- Thank you and I hope you downloaded and listened to the podcast. That conversation between Della & Maya almost made me cry since both of my grandmothers are gone. That type of wisdom (even if I don't agree with all of their advice) will NOT be duplicated again when that generation is gone! We need extensive documentation and oral history recantings from more women of that era.

      1. I did listen to the first 30 minutes or so and it did remind me of the wise matriarchs in my family. That's why I'm so grateful to you for sharing it. I sent the link to my mom because I know that she'd love it. I kinda wished that you hadn't pointed out that they are the last of their kind. I hadn't thought about that and it makes me sad, we're going to lose a lot when they're gone. I hope that I could come close to that type of wisdom once I get to that age.

        1. But Zoopath, this why the core BWE messengers keep emphasizing our lack of time and the death of black people as we once were. There is nobody to replace these sage matriarchs (and wise men). That's OUR fault for allowing the utter foolishness to take over the very definition of "blackness". This is why I have this forum. I feel obligated (in a good way) to do something to address this and give something back. Half the time I can't say I know what I'm doing either, but that's how the relatively young become the wise elders (I hope). It's all a journey. We need their advice and I can't believe (well yes I can) how idiotic some of those women are who the Rev. Dr. tried to advise OF HER OWN FREE WILL to reject it outright. This is why the collective is DONE. We can be the few who survive and thrive and I am determined to get there one step at a time. I'm down 70 lbs (which I'll be blogging about) and meeting with business advisors to kick it up a notch. We can (and should) all do our best -- no more and no less. Thank goodness for the democratization of the internet and the decreasing costs of technology. We have saved archives now.

        2. Oh and Della reads Maya's famous poem Still I Rise in the second half. I was ready to tear up seriously….

          Still I Rise

          You may write me down in history
          With your bitter, twisted lies,
          You may trod me in the very dirt
          But still, like dust, I'll rise.

          Does my sassiness upset you?
          Why are you beset with gloom?
          'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
          Pumping in my living room.

          Just like moons and like suns,
          With the certainty of tides,
          Just like hopes springing high,
          Still I'll rise.

          Did you want to see me broken?
          Bowed head and lowered eyes?
          Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
          Weakened by my soulful cries.

          Does my haughtiness offend you?
          Don't you take it awful hard
          'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
          Diggin' in my own back yard.

          You may shoot me with your words,
          You may cut me with your eyes,
          You may kill me with your hatefulness,
          But still, like air, I'll rise.

          Does my sexiness upset you?
          Does it come as a surprise
          That I dance like I've got diamonds
          At the meeting of my thighs?

          Out of the huts of history's shame
          I rise
          Up from a past that's rooted in pain
          I rise
          I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
          Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
          Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
          I rise
          Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
          I rise
          Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
          I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
          I rise
          I rise
          I rise.

          Maya Angelou

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