Ashford and Simpson are responsible for some of Motown record’s biggest hits. One-half of the legendary Motown songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson died today from complications of throat cancer, which he had been treating with radiation for some time. He was 70.
He is survived by his wife and two daughters. Bio Below
Nickolas Ashford (born May 4, 1942, in Fairfield County, South Carolina) and Valerie Simpson (born August 26, 1946 in The Bronx, New York) are a husband and wife songwriting/production team and recording artists. They met at Harlem’s White Rock Baptist Church in 1963. After having recorded unsuccessfully as a duo, they joined aspiring solo artist and former member of the Ikettes, Josie 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. Another of the trio’s songs “Let’s Go Get Stoned” gave Ray Charles a number one U.S. R&B hit in 1966. 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)”. As performers, Ashford and Simpson’s best-known song is “Solid” (1984 US and 1985 UK). The duo was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002.
The duo essentially had two careers: one as a successful writing and producing team and the other as singers and performers themselves. They started their career in the mid-1960s, writing for artists such as The 5th Dimension (“California Soul”), Aretha Franklin (“Cry Like A Baby”), and Ray Charles (“Let’s Go Get Stoned” and “‘I Don’t Need No Doctor”). Their work with Charles brought them to the attention of Motown chief Berry Gordy.
Joining the Motown staff in 1966, Ashford & Simpson were paired with the vocal duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and they wrote and/or produced all but one of the late-1960s Gaye/Terrell singles, including hits such as the original version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough“, “Your Precious Love”, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”, and “You’re All I Need to Get By.” According to Gaye in the book Divided Soul, Simpson did most of the vocals on the last album he did with Terrell, Easy, as a way of Terrell’s family to have additional income as she was battling an ultimately fatal brain tumor. (Simpson is quoted as denying this in a book written by Terrell’s sister Ludie Montgomery.)
Ashford & Simpson wrote and produced almost all the songs on three 1970s albums for former Supreme Diana Ross including her first solo album Diana Ross “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and revamping Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell‘s smash “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” making it a smash again for Ross. They also wrote Surrender with the clever lyrics… “You’ve used me and abused me, ’til I felt like I wanted to die. You created a need in me, that only you can satisfy.” They also wrote and produces Ross’ smash album The Boss.
Other Motown artists that Ashford & Simpson worked with included 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” and “Clouds,”) and with Rufus (“Keep It Comin'” and “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Maybe”).
Ashford & Simpson’s career as recording artists actually began in 1964, when they recorded “I’ll Find You” as “Valerie & Nick.” This was followed by several obscure singles Ashford recorded on the Glover, Verve and ABC labels such as “It Ain’t Like That”, (later recorded by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas), “California Soul” and “Dead End Kids” backed by his own version of “Let’s Go Get Stoned”. After concentrating on working with other artists, Simpson was the featured soloist on the songs “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “What’s Going On” on the Quincy Jones albums Gula Matari in 1970 and its follow-up, Smackwater Jack. Simpson subsequently recorded two solo LPs for Motown: Valerie Simpson Exposed in 1971, and, the following year, the album Valerie Simpson, which included the single “Silly Wasn’t I,” which was sampled on 50 Cent’s “Best Friend” from the movie Get Rich or Die Tryin’. The song was also sampled by 9th Wonder on Murs’s “Silly Girl” in the album Murray’s Revenge. Ashford & Simpson were featured singing selections from Simpson’s solo albums on the PBS TV show Soul!, hosted by Ellis Haizlip in 1971. They left Motown in 1973, after the albums Simpson recorded for the label received poor promotion and the company refused to release an album of the two of them recording a collection of their most famous songs for other artists.
In 1974 Ashford & Simpson got married, and they resumed their career as a duo with the Warner Bros. album Gimme Something Real. This was followed by the hit singles, “Don’t Cost You Nothin’,” in 1977, “It Seems To Hang On” in 1978, “Is It Still Good to Ya” in 1978, “Found a Cure” in 1979, “Street Corner” in 1982, and their biggest hit, “Solid”, which they recorded in 1984.
In 1978, they were featured as vocalists, along with Chaka Khan, on the hit single “Stuff Like That” from Quincy Jones’ Sounds… And Stuff Like That album and contributed to the writing of the soundtrack to The Wiz.
Simpson appeared (with Melba Moorman) as part of the “Blood, Sweat & Tears Soul Chorus” on the band’s Al Kooper led debut, Child Is Father to the Man.
On his own, Ashford produced, along with Frank Wilson, the mammoth hit “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”, which was recorded by Diana Ross & the Supremes in collaboration with the Temptations in 1968. He also appeared in the movie New Jack City (1991), as Reverend Oates, an ordained minister who was part of Nino Brown’s entourage.
Simpson’s brothers were in the record business as well: Ray Simpson replaced Victor Willis in the Village People and their brother Jimmy Simpson, produced the group GQ, (who had big hits with “Disco Nights” and “I Do Love You”), and was in great demand as a mixing engineer during the disco era.
 Recent years
In recent times, Ashford & Simpson have recorded and toured sporadically and in 1996, they opened the restaurant and live entertainment venue Sugar Bar in New York City, which has an open mic on Thursday nights where performers have included Queen Latifah and Felicia Collins. They recorded the album Been Found with poet Maya Angelou in 1996. Around this time, they were also featured disc jockeys on New York‘s KISS-FM radio station.
On August 16, 2006, Playbill Online reported that they are writing the score for a musical based on E. Lynn Harris‘s novel Invisible Life.  In January 2007, they, along with Tina Turner, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Sidney Poitier, director Spike Lee and comedian Chris Tucker, accompanied Oprah Winfrey when she opened up the school for disadvantaged girls in South Africa.
The duo continues to write and score today. They are given writing credit on Amy Winehouse’s 2007 CD Back to Black for the single “Tears Dry On Their Own”. The track is based on a sample of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell‘s 1967 Motown classic hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough“. They have started performing their live act in intimate spaces such as Feinstein’s at the Regency in New York and the Rrazz Room in San Francisco, and in January 2009, they released a CD and DVD of their live performances entitled The Real Thing. On June 22, 2009 they made a guest performance at a party at Tribeca Rooftop, New York, to celebrate Virgin Atlantic’s Birthday party. They also made the first appearance in Tokyo Japan and performed 8 shows in 4 days at Blue Note Tokyo in November 2009.