NEW YORK (AP) — Nick Ashford, one-half of the legendary Motown songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson that penned elegant, soulful classics for the likes of Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye and funk hits for Chaka Khan and others, died Monday at age 70, his former publicist said.
Ashford, who along with wife Valerie Simpson wrote some of Motown’s biggest hits, died in a New York City hospital, said Liz Rosenberg, who was Ashford’s longtime friend. He had been suffering from throat cancer and had undergone radiation treatment, she told The Associated Press.
Though they had some of their greatest success at Motown with classics like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Reach Out And Touch Somebody’s Hand” by Ross and “You’re All I Need To Get By” by Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Ashford & Simpson also created anthems for others, like “I’m Every Woman” by Khan (and later remade by Whitney Houston).
“They had magic and that’s what creates those wonderful hits, that magic,” Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire said after learning of his friend’s death. “Without those songs, those artists wouldn’t have been able to go to the next level.”
Ashford & Simpson also had success writing for themselves: Perhaps the best-known song they sang was the 1980s hit “Solid As A Rock.”
Their relationship stretched more than four decades. They met in 1964 in a New York City church; Ashford, a South Carolina native, had come to the city to pursue a dance career. Simpson was a music student, and after connecting with her, they decided to start to write songs together.
“They were always comfortable with each other and they made all of us comfortable, because they were comfortable,” White said.
Their first major success occurred when they came up with “Let’s Go Get Stoned” for Ray Charles. That song became a huge hit, and soon, they came to the attention of Motown Records and began penning hits for their artists. The started out writing for Gaye and Terrell; in fact, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was originally their hit, until Ross later rerecorded it and made it her signature song.
“The thing is, they were married and working together, that was what was special about them; everybody admired that,” White said.
The duo, who were married for 38 years, helped sell millions of records for several artists. They also had success as their own entity, but despite “Solid As a Rock,” their songs were dwarfed by those they penned for others.
In recent years, the pair continued to perform. They also were owners of the New York City restaurant Sugar Bar, where many top names and emerging talents would put on showcases.
Ashford is survived by his wife and two daughters.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.