The sensational Della Reese performs Thursday through Saturday,
Feb. 16-18, at The Rrazz Room, 222 Mason Street (at Ellis) in
San Francisco. For tickets and more information, call 800.380.3095
or visit the website at www.therrazzroom.com.
Born Deloreese Patricia Early in Detroit, Michigan Della Reese began on the path that would lead her to show business by singing in her family’s church at the age of six. Her talents landed her touring with gospel great Mahalia Jackson while still only a teenager.
By 18, Reese had formed The Meditation Singers, the group that became the first to take gospel music to the nightclubs of Las Vegas. Reese began making records with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra in the 1950s.
During Black History Month, as we celebrate the nomination of two African American women in this year’s Oscar race (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer for “Help”), Della Reese has been opening doors for black women for more than six decades.
When I spoke to the legendary actress and singer of Gospel, Jazz, R&B, and traditional Pop, she had this to say about her treasured legacy. “That was the blessing God gave me. We all come here for different things and my thing was to open the door and to stand in the door so that the others coming with me and behind me could get in. And, I’m very flattered that He chose me for that particular position. As a reward for holding the door open He kept giving to me– I had no agent, I had no manager– He managed my career which gave me the fame that I really wanted by doing what He designed me to do.”
As an active woman of 80 years, one wonders what she appreciates most. “Oh, life is real to me today. God is real to me. Love is real to me. Joy is real important to me. My relationship with my husband is fantastic, that’s very, very important to me. My relationship with pasturing the church is magnificent; that people are being helped by what it is I am teaching. I mean, so much exciting stuff is happening today.”
She maintains a rich and resonant voice, one that audiences appreciate on stage, film and TV and a life that she parleys in song, “oh yes, this is my life and music,” referring to her upcoming performance in San Francisco. This show is about some of the things that have happened to me that were very exciting and are still exciting. I sing, sit and I talk; it’s as if you are in my living room and we’re having a conversation with music inserted.”
The takeaway from spending an evening with her is self-described as, “I get a variety of responses. Some people tell me that they got married because of a song that I sang or a younger generation says they know my music because their mother or their grandmother played my music in the house when they were growing up. I have some people who remember the first movie that I made and how they were proud to have some black woman in the movies other than Lena Horne so I get different reactions.”
You can’t talk to Ms. Reese without seeking advice or receiving inspiration. Seizing such an opportunity, I indulged seeking her words of wisdom about handling middle age. “I enjoyed middle age, but you get a different kind of status when you get to be my age. I don’t have to…and that is so wonderful. I don’t owe it to anybody. I paid my dues, I can live as I desire, I can be who I want to be, I’m not worried about weight. I don’t walk as fast as I used to. I’m not worried about any of those things because I don’t have to. I’ve passed the test, I’ve stood the trials and I won.
Those trials endured and won have rendered perspective about the industry today and the role women still play. Ms. Reese commented, “Well, let me say this to you, when I was coming up, the generation before me found fault with everything that I was doing. Not just I as one individual but Sarah (Vaughn) and Ella (Fitzgerald) and Dinah (Washington), there was something wrong with what they were doing because we weren’t doing what they did. That’s how ‘they’ saw it. But, that was their generation.
“In my generation I didn’t say it their way, I saw it my way. And that’s the way it is with each generation. Each generation has the right to the music they like, the politics they like, the things that they like to do. I don’t put down what they do; I don’t adapt it for myself. I personally like me the way I am. I appreciate their right; there it is, to do it the way that they see it to do it. Now, if some individual were to come to me and ask me what did I think about it, then I feel that since you asked me, I have the right to tell you my opinion, which does not mean that you have to change what you’re doing, but you asked me this question so I am answering it.”
Reese’s imprint in Hollywood is eternal in a matter of speaking due in part to the successful TV series (1994-2003), “Touched by an Angel,” with costars Roma Downey and the late John Dye. The core message of that show was based on religion, not something we see often in episodic TV. It was a major hit. If there will be a next iteration of the format she replied, “I don’t know. But, this is what I get from Touched by an Angel. I’ll go into the ladies room, someone else will come in and while I’m there washing my hands they will recognize me and say, ‘When is the show coming back on the air?’ We’ve been off the air for years. Now, that says to me, it (the TV show) made a very deep impression and that viewers want to see more like that. Or, they will say to me, ‘I don’t know how I happened to be in front of the television that day, but the story came on and it was just what I needed to tell my sister or it was just what I needed to tell my cousin.’ It was never what they needed for themselves, but it was needed for somebody that they knew. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
The sensational Della Reese performs Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 16-18, at The Rrazz Room, 222 Mason Street (at Ellis) in San Francisco. For tickets and more information, call 800.380.3095 or visit the website at www.therrazzroom.com.