Ashford & Simpson

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Ashford & Simpson
Origin New York City, United States
Genres R&B, soul, funk, disco, gospel
Instruments piano
Years active 1964–2011
Labels Motown, Warner Bros., Capitol
Associated acts Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross

Nickolas Ashford (May 4, 1941 – August 22, 2011[1][2]) and Valerie Simpson (born August 26, 1946) were a husband-and-wife songwriting-production team and recording artists.[3]

Ashford was born in Fairfield, South Carolina, and Simpson in the Bronx, New York. Afterwards, his family relocated to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he became a member of Christ Temple Baptist Church. While there, he sang with a group called The Hammond Singers, (named after the founding minister, James Hammond). Later, Nickolas attended and graduated from Willow Run High School in Ypsilanti, Michigan before pursuing his professional career where he would ultimately meet his wife, Valerie. They met at Harlem's White Rock Baptist Church in 1964. After having recorded unsuccessfully as a duo, they joined an 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. 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)". Ashford and Simpson wrote many other hit songs, including Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman" (1978) and Teddy Pendergrass's "Is It Still Good to You?". As performers, Ashford & Simpson's best-known duets are "Solid (As a Rock)" (1984 US and 1985 UK) and "Found a Cure" (1979). The duo was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002. Ashford and Simpson were also recipients of The Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award in 1999, and ASCAP's highest honor, the Founder's Award, which they received in 1996.[4][5]

Career[edit]

Songwriters[edit]

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.

Upon joining the Motown staff in 1966, Ashford & Simpson were paired with the vocal duo 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 for Terrell's family to have additional income as she was battling an ultimately fatal brain tumor. Though Louvain Demps, singer of The Andantes, has stated that she saw Terrell recording the album, Simpson is quoted as saying, in a book written by Terrell's sister Ludie Montgomery, what they saw was her singing the guide tracks for the album, which were later replaced by Tammi's own vocals.

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)"[6] and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"), Surrender ("Remember Me"), and The Boss. All three albums were critically acclaimed with "Diana Ross" her 1970 album debut and "The Boss" being certified platinum and "Surrender" certified Gold.

Other Motown artists whom Ashford & Simpson worked with include Gladys Knight & The Pips ("Didn't You Know You'd Have to Cry Sometime",(after Motown they worked with Gladys Knight & the Pips and wrote and produced - "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").

Performers[edit]

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". That was followed by several obscure singles recorded by Ashford 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, 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 were featured singing selections from Simpson's solo albums on the PBS TV show Soul!, hosted by Ellis Haizlip in 1971. In 1973, they left Motown after the albums Simpson recorded for the label received poor promotion and the company refused to release an album of the duo recording a collection of their most famous songs for other artists.

In 1974, Ashford & Simpson married after resuming their career as a duo with the Warner Bros. album Gimme Something Real released in 1973. In 1974, they followed up with "I wanna be selfish" and in 1976 "Come as you are" was released. 1977 saw the release of two albums - "So So satisfied" and "Send it". This was followed by the hit singles "Send it", "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 (As a Rock)", released 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 Moore) as part of the "Blood, Sweat & Tears Soul Chorus" on the band's Al Kooper-led debut album on Columbia Records, Child Is Father to the Man.

On his own, Ashford (along with Frank Wilson), produced the hit "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.

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 (which 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 and Ashford's death[edit]

In recent times, Ashford & Simpson recorded and toured sporadically, and in 1996, they opened a 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 that time, they were also featured disc jockeys on New York radio station WRKS.

On August 16, 2006, Playbill Online reported that they were writing the score for a musical based on E. Lynn Harris's novel Invisible Life.[7] In January 2007, they, along with Tina Turner, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Sidney Poitier, director Spike Lee, and comedian Chris Rock 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 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 four days at Blue Note Tokyo.

At President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration, Ashford and Simpson rewrote their song, "Solid (as a Rock)", as "Solid as Barack". They dedicated it to him at his inaugural festivities.

Ashford died in a New York City hospital on August 22, 2011, of complications from throat cancer. His publicist, Liz Rosenberg, said that he had undergone radiation therapy to treat his illness.[8][9]

Simpson released a new solo album in June 2012, called Dinosaurs Are Coming Back Again, that also features the last recorded performance of Nina Simone, a second duet with Roberta Flack and an instrumental version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough".

In 2014, Simpson made a guest appearance on the title track to Kindred the Family Soul's album A Couple Friends.

Personal life[edit]

Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson have two daughters, Nicole (born in 1975), and Asia (born in 1987).[10] Nicole graduated from Wesleyan University in 1997.[11]

Discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

Valerie Simpson[edit]

Year Album Chart positions[12] Record label
US US
R&B
1971 Exposed Motown
1972 Valerie Simpson 162 50
1977 Keep It Comin'
2012 Dinosaurs Are Coming Back Again Hopsack & Silk

Ashford & Simpson[edit]

Year Album Chart positions[13] US
certifications[14]
Record label
US US
R&B
UK
1973 Gimme Something Real 156 18 Warner Bros.
1974 I Wanna Be Selfish 195 21
1976 Come as You Are 189 35
1977 So So Satisfied 180 30
Send It 52 10 Gold
1978 Is It Still Good to Ya? 20 1 Gold
1979 Stay Free 23 3 Gold
1980 A Musical Affair 38 8
1981 Performance 125 45
1982 Street Opera 45 5 Capitol
1983 High-Rise 84 14
1984 Solid 29 1 42 Gold
1986 Real Love 74 12
1989 Love or Physical 135 28
1996 Been Found 49 Hopsack & Silk
2009 The Real Thing 59 Burgundy Records
"—" denotes the album failed to chart or was not certified

Singles[edit]

Valerie Simpson[edit]

  • 1971: "Can't It Wait Until Tomorrow"
  • 1972: "Silly Wasn't I" – US No. 63, R&B No. 24

Ashford & Simpson[edit]

Year Single Chart positions[15][16] Album
US US
R&B
US
Dance
US
A/C
UK
1964 "I'll Find You" (credited as Valerie & Nick) 117 Non-album single
"Somebody's Lying on Love" (credited as Valerie & Nick)
"You Don't Owe Me Anything" (credited as Valerie & Nick)
1973 "(I'd Know You) Anywhere" 88 37 Gimme Something Real
1974 "Have You Ever Tried It" 77
"Main Line" 37 I Wanna Be Selfish
"Everybody's Got to Give It Up" 53
1975 "Bend Me" 73 Gimme Something Real
1976 "It'll Come, It'll Come, It'll Come" 96 Come as You Are
"Somebody Told a Lie" 58
"One More Try" 9
"Tried, Tested and Found True" 52 34 So So Satisfied
1977 "So So Satisfied" 27
"Over and Over" 39
"Send It" 15 Send It
1978 "Don't Cost You Nothing" 79 10 23
"By Way of Love's Express" 35
"It Seems to Hang On" 2 48 Is It Still Good to Ya
"Is It Still Good to Ya" 12
1979 "Flashback" 70
"Found a Cure" 36 2 1 Stay Free
"Nobody Knows" 19
"Stay Free"
1980 "Love Don't Make It Right" 6 7 A Musical Affair
"Happy Endings" 35
1981 "Get Out Your Handkerchief" 65
"It Shows in the Eyes" 34 Performance
"It's the Long Run"
1982 "Street Corner" 56 9 11 Street Opera
"Love It Away" 20
1983 "I'll Take the Whole World On"
"High-Rise" 17 41 High-Rise
"It's Much Deeper" 45
1984 "I'm Not That Tough" 78
"Solid (as a Rock)" 12 1 15 34 3 Solid
1985 "Outta the World" 102 4 4
"Babies" 102 29 56
1986 "Time Talkin'" Time
"Count Your Blessings" 84 4 79 Real Love
"What Becomes of Love"
1987 "Nobody Walks in L.A."
1989 "I'll Be There for You" 2 Love or Physical
"Cookies and Cake"
1990 "Hungry for Me Again" 40 Def by Temptation
1996 "Been Found" 80 Been Found
1997 "What If" 94
2001 "We Are Family" (with Various Artists) Non-album single
"—" denotes the single failed to chart

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Obituary: Nick Ashford of Ashford & Simpson songwriting team dies at 70. latimes.com (August 24, 2011). Retrieved on 2012-05-01.
  2. ^ All Music Guide to Soul: The Definitive Guide to R&B and Soul, Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, Stephen Thomas Erlewine. Backbeat Books, 2003, ISBN 978-0-87930-744-8 (p. 17)
  3. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Biography: Ashford & Simpson". Allmusic. Retrieved April 16, 2010. 
  4. ^ "The Founders Award was presented to Ashford & Simpson on March 18, 1996 at the Motown Café in New York." ASCAP.
  5. ^ ASCAP Founders Award.
  6. ^ George-Warren, Holly and Patricia Romanowski. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. NY: Touchstone, 2001, p. 29.
  7. ^ "Ashford & Simpson to Debut Songs from Invisible Life Musical at Feinstein's". Playbill.com. 2006-08-16. Retrieved 2013-02-21. 
  8. ^ "Songwriter Nick Ashford dies; had throat cancer". Nick Ashford Of Ashford & Simpson Dies. Associated Press (Google HostedNews). Retrieved August 22, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Nick Ashford, of Motown Writing Duo, Dies at 70". Nick Ashford Of Ashford & Simpson Dies. New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Nick Ashford of legendary duo Ashford & Simpson dies at 69". BelleNews – Arts&Culture. BelleNews. August 23, 2011. Retrieved August 23, 2011. 
  11. ^ "The Tenth Annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium". Alumni of Color Network – Fall 2002 Newsletter Vol. 3 No. 1. Wesleyan University. October 19, 2002. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved August 23, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Valerie Simpson US albums chart history". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2010-07-05. 
  13. ^ "Ashford & Simpson US albums chart history". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2010-07-05. 
  14. ^ "Ashford & Simpson US certification history". riaa.com. Retrieved 2011-04-03. 
  15. ^ "Ashford & Simpson US chart history". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2011-04-02. 
  16. ^ "Ashford & Simpson UK singles chart history". chartstats.com. Retrieved 2011-04-02. 

External links[edit]