A no-nonsense, solidly-built singer and comedy performer who went from best-selling recording artist in the 50s to sitcom star in the 70s and 80s to dramatic TV star in the 90s, Della Reese was raised in Detroit, Michigan. By age six, she was singing in church and at age 13 was "discovered" by Mahalia Jackson and asked to join her group of singers. After touring with Jackson, Reese enrolled at Wayne State University, where she started a gospel group called The Meditations Singers. Reese's college studies were cut short by family problems and forces to help with finances, she worked a wide range of jobs from cutting hair to clerical work. She hit her stride when she was hired as a hostess and singer at Detroit's famed Flame Showbar.