Singer Della Reese can't remember when music wasn't a big part of her life.
She was already drawing attention with her vocal prowess at age 6, singing gospel in a Detroit church. By 13, she was on the road with gospel legend Mahalia Jackson.
Reese, who went on to a successful recording and television career, brings her act to Fullerton's Dal Rae Restaurant tonight for two shows, at 8 and 10. "We'll be doing everything from gospel to the blues, with a little Puccini thrown in between," Reese, 54, said in a telephone interview this week. "Plus some love songs and a little humor."
The mix of musical styles is typical of Reese's shows in recent years, but a new project is turning her attention back to her first love: gospel.
Because Reese has found popularity with other musical styles (namely jazz and blues), gospel has not dominated her shows. But recently Reese formed a group, Brilliance, with fellow gospel stalwarts O.C. Smith, Mary Clayton, Vermettya Royster (an original member of the Clara Ward Singers) and Eric Strom. The group has signed a recording contract with Atlanta International Records and plans eventually to hit the road.
Reese becomes animated when describing Brilliance. "Sensational, fantastic, amazing" were the first in a string of adjectives Reese applied to the ensemble, which grew out of a one-time jam session.
The singer said it is the directness and emotional force of gospel that continues to draw her. "It doesn't matter who did your makeup or how many sequins are on your gown," Reese said. "If you don't touch people you might as well go home."
Television is another aspect of Reese's entertainment life. She has had a number of regular TV roles over the years, and from 1969 to 1971 she had her own variety series, "Della!" This season, she was a regular on the CBS comedy "Charlie and Company."
"I love acting," she said. "It's a chance to be someone besides Della Reese." But music remains her No. 1 priority. And for Reese, there is no music without gospel.
"I've been singing gospel all my life," she said. "I couldn't sing and not sing gospel."