Nick Ashford, one half of songwriting and performing duo Ashford & Simpson, has died. The legendary Motown artist passed away in New York City on Monday at the age of 70 from throat cancer.
The pair found fame with the Berry Gordy-founded record label, writing hits like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” and “I’m Every Woman” for singers like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and Chaka Khan, in the ’60s and ’70s. The pair’s breakout hit came courtesy of “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” recorded by Ray Charles in 1966.
The duo also had a very successful recording career of their own, characterized by tracks that celebrated love, such as “Don’t Cost You Nothing,” “It Seems to Hang On,” “Found a Cure” and “Solid.”
Friends and fellow music industry legends are mourning Ashford’s loss. In a statement to The Associated Press, Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire said, “They had magic, and that’s what creates those wonderful hits, that magic. Without those songs, those artists wouldn’t have been able to go to the next level.”
Nick Ashford was born May 4, 1942, in Fairfield, South Carolina, and was raised in Michigan, where he sang at Willow Run Baptist Church, according to The New York Times. After a brief stint at Eastern Michigan University, he moved to New York City to become a dancer, but failed to make a career of it. While living on the streets in New York, he attended the White Rock Baptist Church in Harlem, where he met Valerie Simpson. The pair began writing songs together and was signed to Motown as staff writers and producers, beginning what would be a fruitful music career.
After Gordy discouraged their desire to perform their own songs, they left Motown in the early ’70s and married in 1974. They have two daughters, Nicole and Asia.
In the mid-’90s, the duo opened the Sugar Bar in Manhattan, where they still frequently performed. They also connected with a new generation of music lovers when they worked with the late Amy Winehouse on her track “Tears Dry on Their Own.” The pair received a songwriting credit for the song, which samples “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”