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Sun, 05.04.1941

Nick Ashford, Lyricist, and Singer born

Nick Ashford

*Nick Ashford was born on this date in 1941. He was a Black songwriting/production and recording artist.

Nickolas Ashford was born in Fairfield, South Carolina. He was raised in Willow Run, Michigan, and moved to New York City to pursue a dance career. He and Valarie Simpson met at Harlem's White Rock Baptist Church in 1963 and became one of the world's most successful 20th-century contemporary music composers.

Ashford & Simpson's career as recording artists began in the early 1960s as part of the gospel group The Followers, with whom they recorded the album Gospel Meeting (on Forum Circle), later issued as Meetin' The Followers (on Roulette Records). The LP contains their vocals and also four Ashford compositions. In 1964, they recorded "I'll Find You" as "Valerie & Nick" This was followed by several obscure singles recorded by Ashford on the Glover, Verve, and ABC labels.

After mild success, they joined aspiring solo artist and former member of the Ikettes, Joshie 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.

Ashford and Simpson had two careers: one as writing and producing and the other as singers and performers. In their career in the mid-1960s, they wrote 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.

In 1966, Ashford & Simpson joined the Motown staff and were paired with the vocal duo Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. 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 for 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 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 "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"), Surrender ("Remember Me"), and The Boss. 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").

Away from Motown, 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 Rufus ("Keep It Comin'" and "Ain't Nothin' But a Maybe"). 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, Valerie Simpson, which included the single "Silly Wasn't I," which was later 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 have featured singing selections from Simpson's solo albums on the PBS TV show Soul!, hosted by Ellis Haizlip in 1971. Throughout his career, Ashford played tambourine and percussion on hundreds of sessions and can be heard on dozens of Motown classics, including "What's Goin' On by Marvin Gaye.

In 1974, Ashford & Valarie Simpson married and resumed their career as a duo with the Warner Bros. album, Gimme Something Real. The hit singles followed this, "Don't Cost You Nothin'" (1977), "It Seems To Hang On" (1978), "Is It Still Good to Ya" (1978), "Found a Cure" (1979), "Street Corner" (1982), and their biggest hit, "Solid," released in 1984. Also during that time (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 contributed to the writing of the soundtrack to The Wiz.

On his own, Ashford (along with Frank Wilson) produced "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," which Diana Ross & the Supremes recorded 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.  In 1996, Ashford & Simpson opened the restaurant and live entertainment venue, Sugar Bar in New York City, which has an open mic on Thursday nights, with performers including Queen Latifah and Felicia Collins. That same year they recorded the album Been Found with poet Maya Angelou.

In 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 her Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. They were 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 had begun performing their act in small, intimate venues, 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 titled 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 their first appearance in Tokyo, Japan, in November 2009 and performed eight shows in 4 days at Blue Note Tokyo.

Nick Ashford died in New York on August 22, 2011, of complications from throat cancer. His wife and two daughters, Nicole and Asia, survive him.

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