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Nick Ashford of Ashford & Simpson succumbs to throat cancer

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 23rd, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

When he wrote songs for others, they were always declarations on the power of love - "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing." When he teamed up with his wife Valerie Simpson, he infused hard rock radio with old-fashioned soul hits like "Solid." Nick Ashford of the Ashford & Simpson soul group has passed away at the age of 70 following a bout with throat cancer.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Born in Fairfield, South Carolina, Nickolas Ashford got his musical start at a local Baptist Church, singing and writing songs for the gospel choir. After attending college briefly, Ashford moved to New York, where he failed to find work as a dancer.

Homeless, Ashford went to White Rock Baptist Church in Harlem in 1964 where he met his future wife Valerie Simpson, a 17-year-old high school graduate who was studying music. They began writing songs together, with their first major sale to Ray Charles in 1966, the couple signed on with Motown as staff writers and producers.

Ashford and Simpson together would write some of Motown's biggest hits, such as "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing."

Ashford had throat cancer and was undergoing treatment, but the cause of his death was not immediately known. His death was announced by Liz Rosenberg, a friend who is a longtime music publicist.

Diana Ross sang their "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand," and when she rerecorded "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" in 1970, it became the former Supreme's first No. 1 hit as a solo artist.

Ashford and Simpson nursed a desire to perform, to which Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. discouraged. They left the label in 1973 and married in 1974.

Their early efforts failed to sell, but soon enough, such songs as "Don't Cost You Nothing," "It Seems to Hang On" and "Found a Cure" became hits on the R&B charts. Their biggest hit as a solo act was "Solid," which reached No. 12 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1984.

They also continued to write hits for other people. "I'm Every Woman" was a hit for Chaka Khan in 1978, and later for Whitney Houston on the soundtrack to the 1992 film "The Bodyguard."

Ashford and Simpson later opened the Sugar Bar on West 72nd Street in Manhattan in 1996, where they often presided over open mic nights.

"They had magic, and that's what creates those wonderful hits, that magic," Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire told The Associated Press after learning of his friend's death. "Without those songs, those artists wouldn't have been able to go to the next level."

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