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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nickolas Ashford: 1942-2011


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Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson


August 22, 2011: Songwriter, producer, and performer Nickolas Ashford died of complications from throat cancer at age 70. He was born in Fairfield, South Carolina, on May 4, 1942. He met Valerie Simpson in 1963 and they began working together as writers and performers. They married in 1974.



In the mid-‘60s, the pair composed hits for Aretha Franklin, the Fifth Dimension, Ronnie Milsap, Maxine Brown, the Shirelles, and Chuck Jackson. In 1966, they scored a major break when Ray Charles took his cover of the Coasters’ “Let’s Go Get Stoned” (written by Ashford & Simpson) to #1 on the R&B charts.



Their work with Charles brought them to the attention of Motown’s Berry Gordy. The team then joined Motown where they became the primary writers for the duets between Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (#19 pop, #3 R&B), “Your Precious Love” (#5 pop, #2 R&B), “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” (#8 pop, #1 R&B), and “You’re All I Need to Get By” (#7 pop, #1 R&B).



At Motown, they also worked with Gladys Knight & The Pips, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Marvelettes, and The Supremes. The pair also wrote and produced hits for Diana Ross, including three 1970 hits – “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” (#20 pop, #7 R&B), a cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (#1 pop, #1 R&B), and “Remember Me” (#16 pop, #10 R&B).



They left Motown in 1973 but still found success, most notably with Chaka Khan’s 1978 hit “I’m Every Woman” (#21 pop, #1 R&B). Whitney Houston covered the song in 1993 with even greater success (#3 pop, #1 R&B). During their post-Motown years, Ashford & Simpson also found their greatest success as performers with 1984’s “Solid” (#12 pop, #1 R&B).




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