Nick Ashford, half of the prolific Motown husband and wife duo Ashford and Simpson who composed unforgettable hit classics for such artists as Diana Ross, Chaka Khan and Marvin Gaye, died of throat cancer in New York City. He was 70 years old.
He'd been undergoing treatment for the cancer, his former publicist Liz Rosenberg said. Ashford first met his wife of 38 years, Valerie Simpson, in New York City, where they began their prolific collaboration by writing hits for the legendary record label Motown Records. They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002.
Nick Ashford composed the soundtrack of our lives
From gorgeous ballads for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell to empowerment anthems for Chaka Khan, the songwriting/producing duo filled the charts with hits from their pre-Motown days in the mid-'60s to well into the '80s. Ashford, 69, died of throat cancer Monday in New York.
Ashford & Simpson you can't think of one without the other were also dynamic performers in their own right. The tall, leonine Ashford, whose falsetto at times seemed to soar to the heavens, traded harmonies with the sultry Simpson, whose voice came straight out of church. As songwriters, pianist Simpson created the melodies and Ashford provided the lyrics. They married in 1974 after working together for a decade.
"I am shocked and saddened to hear about the passing of Nickolas Ashford," Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a statement. "(The two) wrote and produced some of the most unique and memorable songs in the Motown catalog for some of Motown's biggest artists. They were most responsible for the great hits of Diana Ross' solo career, including one of my favorites, Ain't No Mountain High Enough, which became Diana's signature song.
"But more importantly to me, Nick Ashford was an all-around beautiful human being."
Smokey Robinson, who recorded their Who's Gonna Take the Blame, said simply, "The world has lost another great talent and I have lost another great friend."
In addition to their Motown classics, Ashford & Simpson penned and produced hits for Chuck Jackson, The Shirelles, Maxine Brown and the Fifth Dimension. Ray Charles' 1966 No. 1 R&B hit Let's Go Get Stoned was their breakthrough record.
They would later write and produce Ross' Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand) and The Boss, Chaka Khan's I'm Every Woman (later recorded by Whitney Houston), The Landlord for Gladys Knight and Shoe, Shoe Shine for the Dynamics Superiors.
One major hit Ashford had without Simpson was 1968's I'm Gonna Make You Love Me, which paired Diana Ross & The Supremes with The Temptations. Produced with Frank Wilson, the song went to No. 2 on the pop charts.
Though Ashford & Simpson had initially performed together in 1964 as Valerie & Nick, they didn't fully break out as R&B stars until the late '70s and '80s with songs like Don't Cost You Nothing, It Seems to Hang On, Found A Cure, Street Corner and Solid.
Ashford, who was born in Fairfield, S.C., and raised in Willow Run, Mich., originally had aspired to be a dancer. He was homeless in New York when he wandered into Harlem's White Rock Baptist Church, where he had been told he could get something to eat. Simpson was at the piano singing, and a friendship soon developed.
The couple were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002. They recorded eight albums for Warner Bros., including four that went gold, five with Capitol and two independently. Their last album, 1996's Been Found, was a collaboration with poet Maya Angelou.
They continued to perform sporadically and frequently hosted events at their restaurant on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Sugar Bar.
Funeral arrangements for Ashford, who is survived by his wife and two daughters, are pending.