August 22, 2011 – Nickolas ‘Nick’ Ashford (70) was born on May 4th 1941 in Fairfield, South Carolina. Ashford’s father, Calvin, was a construction worker and Nick got his musical start at Willow Run Baptist Church, singing and writing songs for the gospel choir. He briefly attended Eastern Michigan University, in Ypsilanti, before heading to New York, where he tried but failed to find success as a dancer. In 1963, while homeless, Ashford went to White Rock Baptist Church in Harlem, where he met Simpson, a 17-year-old recent high school graduate, born in the Bronx, who was studying music. They began writing songs together, selling the first bunch for $64.
After having recorded unsuccessfully as a duo, they joined aspiring solo artist and former member of the Ikettes, Joshie Jo Armstead, at the Scepter/Wand label where their compositions were recorded by Ronnie Milsap-“Never Had It So Good”, Maxine Brown-“One Step At A Time”, as well as the Shirelles and Chuck Jackson.
Their first major success occurred when they and writing partner Jo Armstead came up with “Let’s Go Get Stoned” for Ray Charles. The bluesy, gospel-tinged song became a huge hit for Charles, and Ashford and Simpson soon came to the attention of Motown Records and began penning hits for the label’s artists.
They started out writing soulful, romantic works for the duo of Gaye and Terrell that would become instant classics, like “Your Precious Love,” “Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Ross later recorded “Ain’t No Mountain” with a new arrangement that had sweeping pop grandeur and made it her signature song.
That same year Ashford & Simpson joined Motown, where their best-known songs included “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “You’re All I Need To Get By”, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”, and “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)”.
Ross may have been Ashford & Simpson’s greatest muse: They had some of their biggest songs with her and helped give her career-defining hits that would distinguish her solo career apart from the Supremes. Among the songs Ross made hits were “Reach Out and Touch,” “The Boss,” “My House,” and “Missing You,” a tribute to the late Gaye and others.
Among the other artists who had hits with their songs were Gladys Knight and the Pips (Didn’t You Know You’d Have to Cry Sometime) and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (Who’s Gonna Take the Blame).
Over nearly five decades, Ashford and his wife Valerie Simpson wrote songs together also had success writing for themselves, with perhaps the biggest known hit being the 1980s hit Solid As A Rock.
The duo got married in 1974 and carefully nurtured both the personal and professional aspects of their relationship. “A long time ago I accepted that this would be an all-consuming relationship,” Simpson said in a 1981 interview with The Times. “To keep it going we’ve worked out ways to get along so we don’t drive each other crazy.…
“We don’t hold things in,” she said. “We can’t stay mad and get any work done. Other couples can stay mad at each other for days because they don’t have to work together. We don’t have that luxury, and it’s been good for us that we don’t.”
Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire said: “They had magic, and that’s what creates those wonderful hits, that magic. Without those songs, those artists wouldn’t have been able to go to the next level.”
The duo was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002. Ashford and Simpson were also recipients of The Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 1999, and ASCAP’s highest honor, the Founder’s Award, which they received on March 18, 1996. They also received a songwriting credit on Amy Winehouse’s song Tears Dry on Their Own, which contains a sample from Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
In later years, the pair continued to perform mostly as the owners of the New York City restaurant Sugar Bar, where many top names and emerging talents would put on showcases.
Nick died fighting throat cancer on August 22, 2011. He was 70.
When I heard the news Nick Ashford passed this week the first person I thought of was Valerie. I hope she is getting the support she needs from her friends and family. Ashford and Simpson were a great writing team that penned gems for the late Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terell, Diana Ross, Ray Charles; I can go on and on. What made me admired them the most was that their love was something that fairy tales were made of. Black marriages have gone to the form of extinction, and now we just have the cases of an overabundance of just baby mothers and fathers. Ashford and Simpson was the symbol on what love stands for. I’m sure their marriage had their ups and downs, but they did not give up, they continued to make it work which resulted in over 36 years of unity. Therefore, the old-school song of the week is “Solid (As A Rock). If you did not believe in soul mates, then you are sadly mistaken. They were the quintessential of soul mates, and I truly believe everyone has one. Valerie hang in there and rest in peace Nick. – Ms. Scripter