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Della Reese

Della Reese

born on 6/7/1931 in Detroit, MI, United States

died on 19/11/2017 in Encino, CA, United States

Della Reese

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Delloreese Patricia Early (July 6, 1931 – November 19, 2017), known professionally as Della Reese, was an American jazz and gospel singer, actress, and ordained minister whose career spanned seven decades. Reese's long career began as a singer, scoring a hit with her 1959 single "Don't You Know?". In the late–1960s, Reese hosted her own talk show, Della, which ran for 197 episodes.[1][2] She also starred in films beginning in 1975, including playing opposite Redd Foxx in Harlem Nights (1989), Martin Lawrence in A Thin Line Between Love and Hate (1996) and Elliott Gould in Expecting Mary (2010). She achieved continuing success in the television religious supernatural drama Touched by an Angel (1994–2003), in which Reese played the leading role of Tess.

Early years

Della Reese was born Delloreese Patricia Early on July 6, 1931, in the historic Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan, to Richard Thaddeus Early, an African American steelworker, and Nellie (Mitchelle), a Native American cook of the Cherokee tribe.[3][4][5] Her mother had had several children before Reese's birth, none of whom lived with her; hence, Reese grew up as an only child. At six years old, Reese began singing in church. From this experience, she became an avid gospel singer. On weekends in the 1940s, she and her mother would go to the movies independently to watch the likes of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Lena Horne portray glamorous lives on screen. Afterwards, Reese would act out the scenes from the films. In 1944, she began her career directing the young people's choir, after she had nurtured acting plus her obvious musical talent. She was often chosen, on radio, as a regular singer. At the age of 13, she was hired to sing with Mahalia Jackson's gospel group. Delloreese entered Detroit's popular Cass Technical High School (where she attended the same year as Edna Rae Gillooly, later known as Ellen Burstyn). 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, 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 her mother, Delloreese moved out of her father's house when she disapproved of him taking up with a new girlfriend. She then took on odd jobs, such as truck driver, dental receptionist, and elevator operator, after 1949. Performing in clubs, Early soon decided to shorten her name from "Delloreese Early" to "Della Reese".

Musical career

Reese was discovered by the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, and her big break came when she won a contest, which gave her a week to sing at Detroit's well-known 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 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 year, she also joined the Hawkins Orchestra. Her first recordings for Jubilee were songs such as "In the Still of the Night" (originally published in 1937), "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" and "Time After Time" (1947). The songs were later included on the album And That Reminds Me (1959).

In 1957, Reese released a single called "And That Reminds Me". After years of performing, she gained chart success with this song. It became a Top Twenty pop hit and a million-seller record. That year, Reese was voted by Billboard, Cashbox and various other magazines, as "The Most Promising Singer". In 1959, Reese moved to RCA Records and released her first RCA single, called "Don't You Know?," which was adapted from Giacomo Puccini's music for La bohème, specifically, the aria "Quando m'en vo'" (Musetta's Waltz). It became her biggest hit to date, reaching the number 2 spot on the pop charts and topping the R&B charts (then called the "Hot R&B Sides") that year. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.[6] Eventually, the song came to be widely considered the signature song of her early career. She then released a successful follow-up single called "Not One Minute More" (number 16). She remained on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with "And Now" (number 69). In 1960 she released "Someday (You'll Want Me to Want You)" (number 56) which was drawn from her Grammy-nominated album Della. The album rose in the pop album charts to number 35.

In November 1960, Reese appeared in advertisements in Ebony magazine for the newly launched AMI Continental jukebox. Reese recorded regularly throughout the 1960s, releasing singles and several albums. Two of the most significant were The Classic Della (1962) and Waltz with Me, Della (1963), which broadened her fan base internationally. She recorded several jazz-focused albums, including Della Reese Live (1966), On Strings of Blue (1967) and One of a Kind (1978). She also performed in Las Vegas for nine years and toured across the country. Reese continued to record albums in the following decades, receiving two more Grammy nominations in the gospel category for the album Della Reese and Brilliance (1991) and for the live recorded album, My Soul Feels Better Right Now (1999).[7] Motown singer Martha Reeves cites Reese as a major influence and says she named her group The Vandellas after Van Dyke Street in Detroit and Della Reese. In 2017 she was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

Television and film career

In 1969, Reese began a transition into acting work which would eventually lead to her highest profile. Her first attempt at television stardom was a talk show series, Della, which was cancelled after 197 episodes (June 9, 1969 – March 13, 1970).[8] In 1970, Reese became the first black woman to guest host The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. She appeared in several TV movies and miniseries, was a regular on Chico and the Man and played the mother of B. A. Baracus in The A-Team episode "Lease with an Option to Die". In 1991, she starred opposite her old friend Redd Foxx in his final sitcom, The Royal Family, but his death halted production of the series for several months. Reese also did voice-over for the late 1980s Hanna-Barbera animated series A Pup Named Scooby-Doo on ABC. In 1989, she starred alongside Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx in the film Harlem Nights, in which she performed a fight scene with Eddie Murphy. Reese appeared as a panelist on several episodes of the popular television game show Match Game.

Television guest appearances

Reese has had a wide variety of guest-starring roles, beginning with an episode of The Mod Squad. This led to other roles in such series as: The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, Getting Together, Police Woman, Petrocelli, Joe Forrester, Police Story, The Rookies, McCloud, Sanford and Son with old friend Redd Foxx, Vega$, Insight and two episodes of The Love Boat. She also had a recurring role on It Takes Two opposite Richard Crenna and Patty Duke, three episodes of Crazy Like a Fox, four episodes of Charlie & Co. opposite Flip Wilson, 227 with best friend Marla Gibbs, MacGyver, Night Court, Dream On, Designing Women, Picket Fences, Disney Channel's That's So Raven and The Young and the Restless.

Touched by an Angel

After coping with the death of one of her best friends, Redd Foxx, in 1991, she was reluctant to play an older female lead in the inspirational television drama Touched by an Angel, but went ahead and auditioned for the role of Tess. She wanted to have a one-shot agreement between CBS and producer Martha Williamson, but ordered more episodes. Reese was widely seen as a key component of the show's success. Already starring on Touched by an Angel was the lesser-known Irish actress Roma Downey, who played the role of case worker Tess's angel/employee, Monica. In numerous interviews, there was an on- and off-screen chemistry between both Reese and Downey. The character of Tess was the angelic supervisor who sent the other angels out on missions to help people redeem their lives and show them God's love, while at the same time, she was sassy and had a no-nonsense attitude. The show often featured a climactic monologue delivered by the angel Monica in which she reveals herself as an angel to a human with the words: "I am an angel sent by God to tell you that He loves you." The character of Tess was portrayed by Reese as down-to-earth, experienced and direct. Reese also sang the show's theme song, "Walk with You", and was featured prominently on the soundtrack album produced in conjunction with the show.

During its first season in 1994, many critics were skeptical about the show, it being the second overtly religious prime-time fantasy series, after Highway to Heaven. The show had a rocky start, low ratings and was cancelled 11 episodes into the first season. However, with the help of a massive letter-writing campaign, the show was resuscitated the following season and became a huge ratings winner for the next seven seasons. At the beginning of the fourth season in 1997, Reese threatened to leave the show because she was making less than her co-stars; CBS ended up raising her salary. Touched by an Angel was cancelled in 2003, but it continued re-running heavily in syndication and on Ion Television (formerly PAX-TV), The Hallmark Channel, Up, and later MeTV. Roma Downey said of her on- and off-screen relationship with Reese:

Downey later also said:

Personal life

In 2005, Reese was honored by Oprah Winfrey at her Legends Ball ceremony, along with 25 other black women. On July 6, 2011, Reese celebrated her 80th birthday at the Catalina Jazz Club in Los Angeles.[9] In 2015, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to her.[10] Della Reese was the godmother of Roma Downey's daughter Reilly Marie. Reese officiated at[11] the marriage ceremony of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett in the absence of Downey's late mother.


Reese's mother, Nellie Mitchelle Early, died in 1949 of an intracerebral hemorrhage. Reese's father, Richard Early, died ten years later. Reese had an adoptive daughter whom she acquired from a family member unable to care for her, named Delorese Daniels Owens, in 1961. Owens died on March 14, 2002. She passed away from complications stemming from pituitary disease. Reese said about the painful experience, sharing her frustration with the lack of awareness and knowledge of pituitary disorders:


In 1952, Reese married factory worker Vermont Adolphus Bon Taliaferro, nineteen years her senior,[13] and adopted the stage name Pat Ferro[14] for a week, before introducing the stage name she used for the rest of her life – though sources differ as to whether this was after the failure of the marriage,[13] or simply a show-business decision.[15] A second marriage ceremony, on December 28, 1959, to accountant Leroy Basil Gray, who had two children by a previous marriage, was kept secret for some time.[16] This marriage either ended in divorce[17] or was annulled on the basis that Gray's previous divorce was invalid.[13] Reese appears to have been briefly married to Mercer Ellington (who was then her manager) in 1961, before this was annulled later that year due to Ellington's Mexican divorce being ruled invalid.[13] In 1983, she married Franklin Thomas Lett, Jr., a concert producer and writer.


In 1979, after taping a guest spot for The Tonight Show, she suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm, but made a full recovery after two surgeries by neurosurgeon Charles Drake at University Hospital in London, Ontario. In 2016, shortly after her 85th birthday, Reese was said to be in poor health, and had undergone multiple surgeries. She further disclosed that she had neglected her health for years, which had contributed to her developing diabetes.[18] After her last appearance on Signed, Sealed, Delivered, she had retired from acting. While Reese sometimes used a wheelchair, she avoided using one often, because it would make her condition worse.[19]


In the 1980s, Reese was ordained as a minister through the Christian New Thought branch known as Unity, after serving as the senior minister and founder of her own church, Understanding Principles for Better Living.[20] The "Up Church" is under Universal Foundation for Better Living, a denomination of Christian New Thought founded by Rev. Johnnie Colemon, a close friend of Rev. Reese-Lett. As of 2009, they meet at First Lutheran Church in Inglewood, California.[21] In her ministerial work, she was known as the Rev. Dr. Della Reese Lett.[22]


Reese died on November 19, 2017, at her Los Angeles, California, home at the age of 86. No cause was given, although she had suffered from Type 2-diabetes.[23][24] Her representative Lynda Blensky told USA Today, "We lost a magnificent woman who was a trailblazer in many ways."[25]

Longtime friends Roma Downey (with whom she worked on Touched by an Angel) and Jackee Harry (with whom she worked on 227 and The Royal Family) reflected on her death. Downey said, "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 last evening surrounded by love," She then said: "She was an incredible wife, mother, grandmother, friend, and pastor, as well as an award-winning actress and singer. Through her life and work, she touched and inspired the lives of millions of people. She was a mother to me and I had the privilege of working with her side by side for so many years on Touched by an Angel. I know heaven has a brand new angel this day. Della Reese will be forever in our hearts. Rest In Peace, sweet angel. We love you."[26]

Harry tweeted, "I am completely devastated by the loss of Della Reese. She was a great co-star, sparring partner, drinking buddy, and friend. She taught me the power of prayer and the importance of humility. I'll be forever grateful to call her my friend."[27]




Year Title Role Notes
1975 Psychic Killer Mrs. Gibson [28]
1989 Harlem Nights Vera Walker [28]
1996 A Thin Line Between Love and Hate Ma Wright [28]
2000 Dinosaur Eema (voice) [28]
2005 Beauty Shop Mrs. Towner [28]
2007 If I Had Known I Was a Genius Nana [28]
2010 Expecting Mary Doris Dorkus [29]
2012 Meant to Be Mave [30]
2012 Me Again Muriel [31]
2012 Christmas Angel Elsa Way [28]

Television films

Year Title Role Notes
1973 Voyage of the Yes Opal Parker [28]
1973 Daddy's Girl Diane [28]
1974 Twice in a Lifetime Flo [28]
1975 Cop on the Beat Claudine [32]
1976 Flo's Place Flo [28]
1976 Nightmare in Badham County Sarah [28]
1990 The Kid Who Loved Christmas Alicia Slater [28]
1992 You Must Remember This Ella DuChamps Voice[28]
1997 A Match Made in Heaven Katie Beale [28]
1997 Miracle in the Woods Lilly Cooper [28]
1998 Emma's Wish Mona Washburn [28]
1998 Mama Flora's Family Nana Fleming [28]
1999 The Secret Path Honey [28]
1999 Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years Martha Logan [28]
1999 Anya's Bell Anya Herpick [28]
2000 The Moving of Sophia Myles Sophia Myles [28]
2011 Hallelujah Dulcie Prejean [33]
2012 Christmas Angel Elsie Waybright [28]
2013 Dear Secret Santa Linda [34]
2013 Miracle at Gate 213 Alma Peddington [35]

Television series

Year Title Role Notes Reference
1968 The Mod Squad Paula Episode: "Find Tara Chapman!" [36]
1970 The Bold Ones: The New Doctors Grace Dayton Episode: "Killer on the Loose" [37]
1974 Police Woman Tina Thompson Episode: "Requiem for Bored Wives" [37]
1974–1976 McCloud Police Sgt. Gladys Harris 2 episodes [37]
1975 Petrocelli Angela Damon Episode: "Once Upon a Victim" [38]
1975 The Rookies Landers Episode: "Ladies Day" [37]
1975 Sanford and Son Herself Episode: "Della, Della, Della" [36]
1975–1978 Chico and the Man Della Rogers 27 episodes [37]
1976 Medical Center Capt. Sykes Episode: "Major Annie, MD" [38]
1979 Welcome Back, Kotter Mrs. Tremaine Episodes: "Come Back, Little Arnold", "The Gang Show" [38]
1980 Insight Judge Roberta Lynn Episode: "God in the Dock" [39]
1982 The Love Boat Millie Washington 2 episodes [38]
1982–1983 It Takes Two Judge Caroline Phillips 5 episodes [38]
1985 The A-Team Mrs. Baracus Episode: "Lease with an Option to Die" [38]
1985–1986 Crazy Like a Fox Nurse Flood 3 episodes [38]
1986 Charlie & Co. Aunt Rachel 4 episodes [36]
1986 ABC Afterschool Special Aunt Faith Episode: "The Gift of Amazing Grace" [38]
1987–1990 227 Grace / Rita Clark 2 episodes [38]
1989 Night Court Aunt Ruth Episode: "Auntie Maim" [38]
1990 The Young Riders Stagecoach Sally Episode: "Born to Hang" [38]
1990–1991 MacGyver Mama Colton 2 episodes [38]
1991 Married People Annette Episode: "Dance Ten, Friends Zero" [38]
1991–1992 The Royal Family Victoria Royal 15 episodes [37]
1992 Dream On Receptionist Episode: "No Deposit, No Return" [38]
1993 Designing Women Mrs. Toussant Episode: "Wedding Redux" [38]
1993 L.A. Law Lucille Lake Episode: "Vindaloo in the Villows" [38]
1993 Picket Fences Naomi Grand Episode: "The Lullaby League" [36]
1994–2003 Touched by an Angel Tess 211 episodes
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series (1998–2002)
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (1997–98)
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series (1997–98)
1996–1998 Promised Land Tess 6 episodes [38]
1997 Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child The Blues Fairy (voice) Episode: "Pinocchio" [38]
2006 That's So Raven Miss Rhonnie Wilcox Episode: "The Four Aces" [40]
2009 The Young and the Restless Aunt Virginia 2 episodes [40]
2010 Detroit 1-8-7 Lorraine Henderson Episode: "Shelter" [41]
2014 Signed, Sealed, Delivered Cora Brandt 2 episodes [42]

Awards and nominations

  • 1994: Hollywood Walk of Fame: 7060 Hollywood Boulevard — Television[43]
  • 1996: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series — Touched by an Angel[44]
  • 1997: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series — Touched by an Angel[44]
  • 1998: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series — Touched by an Angel[44]
  • 1999: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series — Touched by an Angel[44]
  • 2000: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series — Touched by an Angel[44]
  • 2001: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series — Touched by an Angel[44]
  • 2002: Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series — Touched by an Angel[44]
  • 1960: Grammy Award — Don't You Know[45]
  • 1961: Grammy Award — Della (Album)[46]
  • 1997: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — Touched by an Angel[47]
  • 1997: Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series — Touched by an Angel[48]
  • 1997: Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Made for TV Series — Touched by an Angel[49]
  • 1998: Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — Touched by an Angel[47]
  • 1998: Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series — Touched by an Angel[50]
  • 1999: Grammy Award — My Soul Feels Better Right Now[45]
  • 2000: Annie Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting By a Female Performer in an Animated Feature — Dinosaur[51]


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  2. ^ (Video). Della Reese interview with Tavis Smiley. June 12, 2009. Tavis Smiley Late Night. PBS.
  3. ^ "Della Reese Biography". filmreference. 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-27. 
  4. ^ Hilary de Vries (June 14, 1998). "Della Reese: Earning Her Wings". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-27. 
  5. ^ Andrea LeVasseur (2009). "Della Reese: Biography". All Movie Guide. MSN. Retrieved 2009-12-27. 
  6. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 117. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  7. ^ "Music". 2009. Archived from the original on May 17, 2010. Retrieved 2009-12-27. 
  8. ^ "Della" Talk Show on IMDb Retrieved February 21, 2013.
  9. ^ "Della Reese Presenting Her Accomplished 80 Years of Life in Song for 'I'm Still Here' Performance at Catalina Jazz Club « 94.7 The WAVE". 2011-07-06. Retrieved 2015-08-18. 
  10. ^ "Wayback Machine" (PDF). October 13, 2012. Archived from the original on October 13, 2012. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
  11. ^ "Della Reese, Touched by an Angel Star and Legendary Singer, Dead at 86". E! News. Retrieved 2017-11-21. 
  12. ^ "Deloreese Daniels Owens's Story", Cushing's.
  13. ^ a b c d Jessie Carney Smith (1996). Notable Black American Women. VNR AG. p. 546. ISBN 978-0-8103-9177-2. 
  14. ^ Joseph F. Clarke (1977). Pseudonyms. BCA. p. 138. 
  15. ^ Jet, 25 August 1977, page 58
  16. ^ Jet, 11 February 1960
  17. ^ Andy Gregory (2002). The International Who's Who in Popular Music 2002. Psychology Press. p. 425. ISBN 978-1-85743-161-2. 
  18. ^ Victoria Uwumarogie (August 31, 2016). "Della Reese Reportedly in Bad Shape: "I Don't Have Type 2 Diabetes — Type 2 Diabetes Has Me"". Madamenoire. Retrieved September 4, 2016. 
  19. ^ Radar Staff (August 29, 2016). "Calling All Angels! Sickly Della Reese Admits: 'My Life is at State'". Radar Online. Retrieved September 4, 2016. 
  20. ^ "Local News | Della Reese Is No Angel, But She's Real Reverend -- In Dual Roles Of Minister And Actress, She Has A Big Following | Seattle Times Newspaper". Retrieved 2017-07-24. 
  21. ^ "Ministry". 2009. Archived from the original on January 25, 2010. Retrieved 2009-12-27. 
  22. ^ "Ministry: Biography". Understanding Principles for Better Living Church. 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-27. 
  23. ^ Mazur, Marcia Levine (July 1, 2004). "Della Reese: "Diabetes will not make me a victim." Della Reese has type 2 diabetes, but you'll never hear her complain about her life". Diabetes Forecast. 57 (7): 56–60. PMID 15295806. Retrieved November 29, 2017 – via PubMed. 
  24. ^ Morris, Chris (November 20, 2017). "Della Reese, 'Touched by an Angel' Star and R&B Singer, Dies at 86". Variety. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
  25. ^ "Della Reese, star of TV's 'Touched By An Angel,' dies at 86". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2017-11-21. 
  26. ^ "Della Reese, singer and Touched by an Angel star, dies". November 21, 2017. Retrieved November 27, 2017. 
  27. ^ "'Touched by an Angel' Star Della Reese Dies at 86, Actors Praise Exemplary Life". Christian November 21, 2017. Retrieved November 27, 2017. 
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  29. ^ Scheib, Ronnie (November 16, 2010). "Expecting Mary". Variety. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
  30. ^ "'Meant to Be' - Chicago Tribune". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
  31. ^ "Interview With Della Reese: 'God's Had a Bad Agent'". The Christian Post. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
  32. ^ "COP ON THE BEAT". Library of Congress. 
  33. ^ "HALLELUJAH (2011)". Library of Congress. 
  34. ^ "Dear Secret Santa (TV) (2013)". FilmAffinity. 
  35. ^ Gates, Anita (20 November 2017). "Della Reese, Singer and 'Touched by an Angel' Star, Dies at 86". The New York Times. 
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  39. ^ "INSIGHT". Library of Congress. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
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  41. ^ "DETROIT 1-8-7 Preview: December 7 on ABC". Broadway World. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
  42. ^ "Della Reese, singer and 'Touched by an Angel' star, dies at 86". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
  43. ^ "Della Reese - Hollywood Walk of Fame". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
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  45. ^ a b "Della Reese". May 14, 2017. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
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  47. ^ a b "Nominations Search". Emmy Awards. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
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  50. ^ "The 4th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Screen Actors Guild Awards". Screen Actors Guild. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
  51. ^ "Annie Awards". Annie Awards. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 

External links

This page was last modified 28.01.2018 09:31:44

This article uses material from the article Della Reese from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.