Nekesa Mumbi Moody Associated Press August 23, 2011, 4:43 am
NEW YORK — Nick Ashford, one-half of the legendary Motown songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson that penned elegant, soulful classics for the likes of Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye and funk hits for Chaka Khan and others, died Monday at age 70, his former publicist said.
Liz Rosenberg, who also was Ashford’s longtime friend, told The Associated Press that Ashford — who, along with wife Valerie Simpson, wrote some of Motown’s biggest hits — died in a New York City hospital. He had been suffering from throat cancer and had undergone radiation treatment.
Though they had some of their greatest success at Motown with classics like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” by Ross and “You’re All I Need To Get By” by Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Ashford & Simpson also created classics for others, like the anthem “I’m Every Woman” by Khan (and later remade by Whitney Houston).
They also had success writing for themselves. Perhaps the biggest known hit sung by them was the 1980s hit, “Solid (As A Rock).”
“They had magic, and that’s what creates those wonderful hits, that magic,” Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire said after learning of his friend’s death. “Without those songs, those artists wouldn’t have been able to go to the next level.”
Their relationship stretched more than four decades. They met in 1964 in a New York City church; Ashford, a South Carolina native, had come to the city to pursue a dance career. Simpson was a music student, and after connecting with her, they decided to start to write songs together.
“They were always comfortable with each other, and they made all of us comfortable because they were comfortable,” White said.
Their first major success occurred when they came up with “Let’s Go Get Stoned” for Ray Charles. That song became a huge hit, and soon, they came to the attention of Motown Records and began penning hits for their artists. They started out writing for Gaye and Terrell; in fact, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was originally their hit, until Ross later re-recorded it and made it her signature song.
“The thing is, they were married and working together. That was what was special about them; everybody admired that,” White said.
The duo, who were married for 38 years, helped sell millions of records for several artists. They also had success as their own entity, but their songs, although popular among black audiences, were dwarfed by those they penned for others.
Michael Jones, a fashion design professional from New York, said Ashford’s music was universal.
“Nick (along with Val) is a musical genius possessed of an artistry that will forever be woven into the memories and timeline of American history that is hard to match. His music is part of someone’s day, somewhere in the world,” Jones told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “I grew up on Nick & Val as a singing couple. I then learned all I could about their Motown days, how they met and the other artists they produced. They have left a mark on music for the ages.”
Ashford had a distinctive look – flowing hair and smoldering eyes – that signaled sexiness and intrigue. Onstage, he and his wife seemed to emit a chemistry that threatened to immolate them before the audience’s eyes.
“Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson were what sensuality ‘looked’ like. Nick is who should have been gracing covers of romance novels with Valerie in his arms!” said author and writing coach Linda Jones of Dallas.
“In my clubbing days, there always came a time when the band finished its night before I was ready to stop dancing. Usually, the bar turned on the radio to help shoo the night owls out. One night, I heard the A&S verion of ‘You’re All I Need to Get By’ for the first time. I grabbed a partner and danced to it, the perfect nightcap, slower, sensual and such great voices. I like Marvin Gaye’s version, but I love the A&S version,” Liisa May of New York posted on Facebook.
Facebook and Twitter lit up immediately upon the news, many people saying they learned about the depth of love and romance from Ashford & Simpson.
In recent years, the pair continued to perform. They also were owners of the New York City restaurant Sugar Bar, where many top names and emerging talents would put on showcases.
“Our whole generation learned what true romance and sensuality didn’t just sound like, but what it felt like in every cell of our beings, from the gorgeous, classic and timeless musical genius of Valerie Simpson Nick Ashford. Plus they were just such an agelessly gorgeous, HOT couple – inspiration, class and talent squared,” said TaRessa Stovall of New York City.
“His music was the soundtrack of the post-modern world, known in the remotest corners of the world to the most populated. It was a common language spoken and understood by all,” said Amy V. Simmons, a freelance writer and editor in Philadelphia.
In addition to his wife, Ashford is survived by two daughters.
BlackAmericaWeb.com’s Jackie Jones contributed to this report.