The Ashford & Simpson duo were a husband and wife songwriting-production team, which left its mark on American music for good. Nickolas Ashford hailed from South Carolina and grew up in Michigan. In the 1960s with $57 in his pocket, he moved to New York with hopes of making it in show business.
He was attending Harlem’s White Rock Baptist Church when he met Valerie Simpson, a New Yorker who sang in the choir and also had musical ambitions. That encounter would birth Ashford & Simpson, the legendary Motown songwriting duo that penned riveting classics for the likes of Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye as well as funk hits for Chaka Khan and other notables.
According to Ashford, when they began they sold their songs for $75 apiece. They recorded together briefly and unsuccessfully in 1964 as “Valerie and Nick,” but then found success writing songs for others to sing.
In 1966, the couple wrote their first hit song – “Let’s Go Get Stoned“, recorded by Ray Charles. They then took up staff positions at Motown, where they wrote and produced hits for Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross. The couple also wrote some of Motown’s most powerful love duets.
They wrote hits for the duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “You’re All I Need to Get By“. When Diana Ross left the Supremes for a solo career, Ashford & Simpson wrote “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” for her.
Aside writing for other stars, they also had a long singing career, scoring their biggest chart hit with 1984′s “Solid (As a Rock)” and later settling into a long run at clubs and cabarets.
The couple’s relationship with Motown ended in 1973 after Valerie released a couple of solo albums which flopped. After their Motown exit, the duo concentrated on making their own records, though they also penned Chaka Khan’s hit “I’m Every Woman” before finally achieving recognition as artists in their own right.
Their first crossover success came in 1977 with the gold-selling Send It, which contained the Top Ten R&B hit “Don’t Cost You Nothing.” Is It Still Good to Ya, a second gold album, contained the number two R&B hit “It Seems to Hang On” in 1978. Stay Free, their third straight gold album, contained “Found a Cure,” another R&B smash that also made the Top 40 on the pop chart. A Musical Affair, in 1980, featured the hit “Love Don’t Make It Right,” but was not as successful as previous efforts.
During the late ’80s and two following decades, Ashford & Simpson continued to tour and record sporadically, until Ashford’s died from complications of throat cancer on August 22, 2011 in a New York City hospital.
Ashford and Valerie Simpson owned several restaurant/clubs, including the 20/20 on W. 20th St. and the Sugar Bar on W. 72nd St. They were a DJ team for several years on WRKS (98.7 FM), playing the kind of music they wrote and sang. They had two daughters: Nicole Ashford and Asia Ashford.
Both were inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002.