Della Reese attended Bishop Grade School because it was close enough to her house that she was able to walk home for lunch each day. While Della and her mother ate lunch together Della's mother and Della listened to the midday radio show that they both loved. Kate Smith was first, and she was followed by Our Gal Sunday, and then Helen Trent. Like the movies, the radio was another way for them to dream and travel to other places. After they finished listening to the radio during Della's lunch time she would go back to school.
When Della went to kindergardten the teacher told her that she was much more advanced than the other children in her class and that she belonged in the first grade. Whe the teacher ask Della how old she was Della told the teacher that she was 4 and a half years old. When the teacher told the principal how old Della was the principal told the teacher that she would start next week in the first grade. Della was to start in One A, as opposed to One B, which was how they split the grades up in those days according to the level of the students. And that was how Della skipped kindergarten and began school at the age of four and a half in the first grade.
While Della was still bedridden and recovering from rheumatic fever, there was a lady that came into her life. Her name was Bernice White. She was a beautiful young lady in her early twenties. Bernice was a pretty, bright, and a most loving human being. Bernice and her husband moved into one of the apartments downstairs in the same building where Della lived. Bernice would come and stay with Della when Della's mother worked at the restaurant. Bernice had fun entertaining Della during her recuperation. Unbeknownst to Della at the time, she was actually teaching Della by inventing all sorts of educational games. Therer were games that taught Della my letters, games that taught her to spell.
By the time Della fully recovered from the rheumatic fever and got up out of bed, she could recite her alphabet and say her numbers to one hundred. Bernice was an excellent teacher for Della. Of course Della didn't know it at the time.
Della Reese learned to really believe that the Lord loves her and he only wants only the best for her. Della said that is an absolute. Della had made mistakes and she said that she will again. Della said that she may step out of the light and go off and make some of the biggest messes in the world, but she will always know that she can always step back into the light.
Della's father was a gambler. When Della's father made one of his wild bets, she could tell how much he loved the excitement by the tone of his voice. He would holler loud and talk gambler trash. He would either seem happy or sad. It was according on how the game turned out.
There was a church in Della's neighborhood that everybody attended and the name of the church was Olivet Baptist Church. Della and her mother had lots to do there all day on Sunday. Della and her mother attended Sunday school and the church services after Sunday school, and then they would serve the food after the services, and then they went to gospel singing practice, and the meeting of the Baptist Young People's Union after the gospel singing practice. Della loved every minute of it. More than anything, church was getting together time. The familes that attended could socialize and the kids could run and play and sing. Della really liked the singing part.
Della had one nearest playmate that she played with that was close to her age, and her name was Jacquline Baylock. Jacquline Baylock's family lived on the third floor of Della's building and also at the other end of the porch. Jacquline's mother was a real live lady barber which was very unusual for a woman in those times.
Della's mother was a psychic in many ways. Over the years Della's mother often gave Della warnings. For example when she had a bad feeling about Della riding the school bus that day. And then sure enough Della wouldn't ride the bus that day, and the bus ended up in an accident. Della was convinced she had to be a witch.
Della loved making her father laugh and watching his proud face when she would perform for him. Della loved his eyes. They were so deep and welcoming. They were not dark brown, nor were they light brown, but somewhere in between. Della loved how they would light up when he see her at the end of the day. Della's father was so proud of her.
Della's mother and father had very different methods of teaching. Della's father's approach was to give Della direct instructions or information. Della's father would say it once and then ask Della if she would understand what he just told her, but before she could answer him he would continue explaining. Della didn't have time to explain anything to her father.
Della's mother on the other hand had to know every detail of what, how, and why. And when Della's mother gave her instructions she could talk for a week. Della's mother would explain it so many ways, in so many details until there was no possibility of any doubt or wondering look on Della's mother's face.
Della inherited both looks and personality from both of her parents. She also learned traits from each of her parents. Her coloring was a mixture of both of Della's parents. Her mother's light and her father's dark skin. Later on Della was blessed to grow tall like her father. Some of Della's blessings she got from her mother, including her ability to live with herself, peace of mind, and a sense that God is my sufficiency in all things.
After Della's parents were married for a couple of years, her mother thought that she had a tumor in her stomach. She went to be examined, and the doctor told her that she didn't have a tumor. She was seven months pregnant. She was pregnant with Della. She was forty two years old when she gave birth to Della. After Della was born Della's mother and father didn't have any more children. She was the last child that was born.
In 1953 Della was in New York with a recording contract, racking up hits including "In The Still of the Night' and "Don't You Know".
Della Reese landed her very first professional tour at the age of thirteen, singing backup for Mahalia Jackson.
She has type 2 diabetes.
Della Reese: In the event you haven't observed yet about me as a small child, I've always been an all or nothing kind of person. When I was three years old I was pronounced gravely ill with rheumatic fever. Of course that was over sixty years ago. Without all the medical advances that have been made since then, rheumatic fever was a very scary thing back then. Rheumatic fever is an infection that first attacks the joints. In it's most severe form it affects the heart and can do permanent damage. The systoms tend to recur and recurring attacks tend to weaken the heart. The doctors told my mother that I had the worst case possible. They were very pessimistic. The illness would damage my circulatory system, and I would never walk again. Of course my mother didn't fear it. She said that there was no way she was going to accept their prognosis. My mother told me that I was going to be well soon and that the illness was not coming back, and the reason why was because she had prayed and God was taking care of it. My mother took me to see her faith healer whose name was sister Kenny and when my mother's faith healer told her that God was taking care of it and he did. After I was healed I rarely ever got sick again. My mother was a strong believer in prayer and believed that God would answer all her prayers and he did.
Della Reese: My parents were my angels who taught me the lessons of self reliance and to belief in myself. At the same time they also taught me that God would always be there to help me with whatever I couldn't handle on my own. This is called faith. I learned that my father was practical and my mother who was a dreamer. I learned it by looking at a man who had nothing but who provided everything. I also learned it from listening to a woman who told me, that God will find a way out, and with me I couldn't argue with success.
Della Reese: I am so very blessed to have entered this world through my mother and to have spent my formative years in her love, tenderness and tutoring in the basic principles of my life. I am also so very blessed to have received from my father and my mother the groundwork which gave me the strength to weather the life situation and challenges I've had to face on the road out of the slums to the top of the mountain, where I now reside in the greatest of comfort. I didn't suspect my parents envisioned where I would come to, but that wasn't important. The important principle that they taught me was to live successfully where I was, not to strive for another better day to be happier but to make the best of the present.
Della Reese: When I was growing up it was hard for me to believe my father was such a good provider. It was my father who taught me to appreciate the real value of a hard earned dollar. And it was an appreciation that I never forgot. Together my father and my mother did everything that they could to make ends meet. And they did. They even had enough left over to put a little away into the rainy day can. Living as we did, we never knew when that rainy day was coming. Rainy day or not, my father never, ever missed not one day of work. He worked sick, or well, drunk or sober.
Della Reese: Everyone confided in my mother. I usually got a good earful from my spy post in my bedroom. That was great unless my mother found out, and naturally she seem to always find out. My mother would always find out whatever I did that I wasn't suppose to have had done. I don't know how, but it was scary. I always thought my mother could read minds or see through the walls. I guess you could say it was a psychic thing.
Della Reese: When I got into trouble, a lot of the time it was my own mouth that usually did it. I would sometimes hide and eavesdrop when Miss Janie was confiding her secrets to my mother and at that time I managed to get away with it, but somehow the next day right as my mother was trying to make a point with me, I would blurt out something like, That's wasn't what you said to Miss Janie yesterday, then I would be in trouble. I just couldn't keep my mouth out of trouble. Sometimes I just knew my mother had ESP.
Della Reese: Growing up we lived in a railroad flat, which had one long hallway, with the various rooms lining it. At one end of the hall was the master bedroom. And next to that as you opened the front door to the apartment, was the second bedroom, and the third bedroom halfway down the hall and off of that to the left was the bathroom. The living room was at the other end of the hall, off of it was my bedroom and on the other side of the kitchen and the back door. Our house was so cozy and inviting.
Della Reese: My mother was actually my first acting coach, because I worked so hard to get my face right to make my mother stop talking so I could go outside and play. My mother really taught me a lot.