Famed singer and songwriter Nickolas Ashford, best known as one half of the duo Ashford & Simpson, died Monday after losing a battle with throat cancer. He was 70 years old. For the most part the duo had two careers -- one as astellar writing and producing partnership and the other as singers and performers themselves. Simpson may also be remembered as the shady Reverend Oates seen making deals with Nino Brown in "New Jack City."
Famed singer and songwriter Nickolas Ashford, best known as one half of the duo Ashford & Simpson, died Monday after losing a battle with throat cancer. He was 70 years old.
Ashford was born in Fairfield, South Carolina on May 4, 1942. By his early 20s he had already relocated to New York City with a dream to make it as an aspiring dancer. That is where he met Bronx native Valerie Simpson, a music student. They began writing songs together and formulated “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” a bluesy, gospel record that became a huge hit for singer Ray Charles in 1966 and proved the duo’s dynamic abilities to Motown Records. Motown picked them up to pen songs for some of their front running artists, including another duo – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. “Aint Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Your Precious Love” were all mega-hits written by Ashford & Simpson and performed by Gaye and Terrell that have been deemed classics and can still be heard on certain radio stations, at weddings and rendered by other artists. They also wrote “Aint No Mountain High Enough” originally written for Gaye and Terrell but rearranged and made famous by Diana Ross. In fact, it became Ross’ signature song for which she is most popular for to date.
With Ross the writing duo had hit a goldmine. Ross’s pop appeal paired with their lyrics helped her to define herself as a solo artist, outside of the Supremes and pushed them to write some of their biggest songs including “My House,” “The Boss,” “Reach Out and Touch” and a tribute to the late Gaye entitled “Missing You.” Ashford & Simpson wrote and produced almost all the songs on three 1970s albums for the former Supreme. Ashford & Simpson also lent a hand in composing some of the music for Ross’s film “The Wiz” that she starred in with Michael Jackson.
All the while, Ashford & Simpson had been recording records of their own, both collectively and individually throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s and dropped their last album in 1996. It has been said that the duo left Motown after the albums Simpson recorded for the label received poor promotion and the company refused to release an album of the duo recording a collection of their most famous songs for other artists. Other Motown artists whom Ashford & Simpson worked with include Gladys Knight & The Pips (“Didn’t You Know You’d Have to Cry Sometime,” “The Landlord,” “Bourgie, Bourgie”, and “Taste of Bitter Love”), Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (“Who’s Gonna Take the Blame”), The Marvelettes (“Destination:Anywhere”), The Supremes (“Some Things You Never Get Used To”), and The Dynamic Superiors (“Shoe, Shoe Shine”). Other artists with whom Ashford & Simpson had hits were Teddy Pendergrass (“Is It Still Good to You”), The Brothers Johnson (“Ride-O-Rocket”), Chaka Khan, both on her own (“I’m Every Woman” – later remade by Whitney Houston - and “Clouds”), and Rufus (“Keep It Comin’” and “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Maybe”).
In more recent times spanning the 90s and into the past decade Ashford & Simpson were inducted into the Songwritting Hall of Fame, did sporadic touring, hosted a successful open mic night at their restaurant Sugar Bar in New York, were given writing credit on Amy Winehouse’s 2007 CD “Back to Black” and accompanied Oprah Winfrey for the opening of her girls academy on South Africa. – Information compiled By Felicia C Haney