Singer, songwriter, Motown legend-the music Nickolas Ashford wrote, co-wrote and sang will remain timeless American classics. But for Ashford himself, the end came on Monday when he passed away of throat cancer. He was 70.
Ashford, along with his wife and co-songwriter Valerie Simpson, wrote songs for Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Ray Charles and other titans of music.
Ashford met Simpson in a New York City church in 1964. A native of Fairfield, S.C., Ashford initially came to New York to pursue a career in dance. Simpson was a music student at the time, and the duo started writing songs together after making a connection.
The duo got their first break writing the song “Let’s Go Get Stoned” in 1966 for the Coasters, but it became a bigger hit the following year when Ray Charles recorded his own version. The duo caught the eye of Motown, where their legend would be created.
With songs like “Your Precious Love” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” (as sung by Terrell and Gaye), “I’m Every Woman” (as sung by Chaka Khan) and “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” (as sung by Diana Ross), Ashford and Simpson were an in-demand songwriting team for a long period of time. As recently as a few years ago, they were credited as co-songwriters on Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own.” They also wrote some of the music for the film “The Wiz.”
As a singer, Ashford possessed an instantly recognizable falsetto that coated such hits as “Solid” with a distinct power that went unmatched in popular music. The couple’s power wasn’t lost among the music industry, audiences or other artists, either. Highly respected in the realm of music, Ashford and Simpson were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002.
Various musicians and celebrities immediately took to Twitter to express their thoughts on Ashford’s death.
“Ashford and Simpson gave Chic our first big break,” said Nile Rodgers on Twitter. “We arranged ‘Don’t Cost You Nothing’ and ‘By Way of Love’s Express.’ There’s a reason why my bio vid[eo] clip starts with Ashford and Simpson when I give the history of records I worked on.”
“Left rehearsal. Heard Nick Ashford passed. A legend. My heart goes out to Valerie. My Lord, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.’ ‘Solid as a rock,’” said Lenny Kravitz.
“Sad Morning. We lost another giant yesterday,” said Spike Lee. “The great Nick Ashford. Nick, along with his wife, Valerie Simpson, wrote amazing songs.”
“God bless you, my brother,” stated Sheila E.
While Ashford’s success in music is the part most people know about, many outlets have failed to mention his business acumen. Ashford, along with Simpson, owned the New York City restaurant Sugar Bar, where high-profile names and emerging talents would present showcases. Lloyd Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, spoke of Ashford’s other endeavors and why he’s more than just a musician.
“First and foremost, Nick Ashford was a friend,” said Williams. “Although we understand that he was a prolific writer, he was also an entrepreneur and a business person with a number of business operations. He owned his own production companies and did other things in the music industry, but he also helped out a lot with Harlem Week and he volunteered at a lot of youth programs. He always raised funds for worthy causes.
“When you think of Ashford and Simpson, you think of them like the left hand and the right hand,” continued Williams. “But Nick unto himself was an extraordinary human being.”
Ashford is survived by his wife and two daughters, Nicole and Asia. There were no funeral arrangements to announce as of press time.