The husband-and-wife team of composers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson authored some of Motown's finest songs, including the classic duets of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, before parlaying their success into an enduring performing career of their own.
Born May 4, 1942, in Fairfield, South Carolina, Ashford was raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan (near the Willow Run manufacturing plant), and sang in the church choir as a youth; after dropping out of Eastern Michigan University, he relocated to Harlem and accepted a job as a busboy. In 1964, he met Simpson, then a music student at Chatham Square School, and they soon began collaborating on songs. They wrote for and recorded with a gospel group called the Followers and released a single ("I'll Find You") as Valerie & Nick; Ashford released solo singles on Verve and ABC. In 1966, Ray Charles scored a hit with the duo's "Let's Go Get Stoned," and soon after they were signed to Motown as staff writers and producers. In addition to the magnificent Gaye/Terrell duets "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," and "You're All I Need to Get By," Ashford and Simpson also penned Diana Ross' "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)," the Miracles' "Who's Gonna Take the Blame," the Marvelettes' "Destination: Anywhere," and Rita Wright's "I Can't Give Back the Love I Feel for You." In 1971, Ashford also produced Simpson's solo debut, Exposed; a self-titled effort followed a year later, and in 1973, the couple recorded the duets collection Keep It Comin'. A move to Warner Bros. preceded 1973's Gimme Something Real; the following year, Ashford and Simpson were married. The title track from 1977's So So Satisfied was a Top 40 R&B hit and in 1979, they cracked the pop Top 40 with "Found a Cure." That same year, Chaka Khan recorded their "I'm Every Woman"; the song topped the R&B chart and was later covered by Whitney Houston for the soundtrack to her 1993 film The Bodyguard. Ashford and Simpson scored their biggest hit as performers with their 1985 R&B chart-topper "Solid," but when subsequent efforts failed to achieve similar success, the couple was dropped by Capitol following 1989's Love or Physical. As recording artists, they had amassed over 20 Top 40 R&B singles. Their final studio LP -- Been Found, a collaboration with Maya Angelou -- did not appear until 1996, but they continued to perform throughout the 2000s. Ashford passed away of complications from throat cancer on August 22, 2011. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi