Wednesday, August 24, 2011

RIP Nick Ashford

I was so sorry to learn of the death of composer, singer and hitmaker Nick Ashford (1941-2011), who with his fellow songwriter and later wife Valerie Simpson (1946-), wrote hit after hit that I and millions of others grew up on.  It is hard to believe that he was 70 years old.  He had suffered from throat cancer, and died in a hospital in New York on Monday. He leaves his wife, two daughters, and other family members.

A native of Fairfield, South Carolina, Ashford met Simpson in Harlem in 1963 at White Rock Baptist Church, where they began collaborating. Their early recording career did not pan out, but they began writing songs that a number of important figures recorded. These hits included Ray Charles's "Let's Get Stoned"; Marvin Gaye's and Tammi Terrell's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need to Get By," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)"; Diana Ross's versions of "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," and "Remember Me." I had no idea that they had also written such hit songs as Teddy Pendergrass's "Is It Still Good To You"; The Brothers Johnson's "Ride-O-Rocket"; and, according to my mother, my childhood favorite Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman" and "Clouds"; and Chaka Khan with Rufus's "Keep It Coming" and "Ain't Nothing But Maybe."

Ashford and Simpson also wrote for Gladys Knight and the Pips, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Supremes, The Marvelettes, The Dynamic Superiors, and other Motown groups.  Ashford lent his voice and instrumental talents to numerous other recordings over the years as well. As the group Ashford and Simpson, they saw their own recording career finally take off in the 1970s, with hits like "Don't Cost You Nothin'" (1977), " "Is It Still Good to Ya" (1978), "Found a Cure" (1979), "Street Corner" (1982), and the hit that was one of the songs my sophomore year of college, "Solid." ("Solid as a rock....") With his wife, Ashford established New York's Sugar Bar in 1996, at 254 W. 72nd Street on the Upper West Side, and it has become an important venue for seeing some of the best local and international talents in R&B, soul, jazz, and Caribbean music.  Yesterday evening, performers, including luminaries such as Freddie Jackson, honored and mourned Nick Ashford's passing at Sugar Bar.

Here are a few clips of Ashford & Simpson's songs, and of the incredible duo themselves, singing their way into listeners' hearts, and history. RIP, Nick Ashford.

Ashford & Simpson, "Solid" (no embedding) Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" Diana Ross, "Remember Me" Chaka Khan, "I'm Every Woman" Teddy Pendergrass, "Is It Still Good To Ya"

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