Tuesday, August 23, 2011
R.I.P. Nick Ashford
Nick Ashford, half of the Motown songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson that penned elegant, soulful classics for singers Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye and funk hits for Chaka Khan and others, died Monday, his former publicist said. He was 70.
Ashford, who along with wife Valerie Simpson wrote some of Motown's biggest hits, died in a New York City hospital, said publicist and longtime friend Liz Rosenberg. He had throat cancer.
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 anthems for others, like "I'm Every Woman" by Khan (which was later remade by Whitney Houston).
Ashford & Simpson also had success writing for themselves: Perhaps the best-known song they performed was the 1980s hit "Solid."
"His music is unmatched in terms of great songwriting," Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire said after learning of his friend's death. "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."
Ashford and Simpson met in 1964 in a New York City church. Ashford, who was born in 1941 in Fairfield, S.C., and raised in Willow Run, Mich., had come to the city to pursue a dance career. Simpson was a music student, and after they connected, they decided to write songs together.
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.
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.
The duo, married since the mid-1970s, 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."
In 2002, Ashford & Simpson were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Ashford's survivors include his wife and two daughters.