Nick Ashford 4th May 1941 - 22nd August 2011

Nick Ashford, half of the singing and songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson, passed away from throat cancer on Monday August 22nd 2011 he was 70.

He and his future wife began writing together in 1964 and found success early when a throwaway party tune, “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” (written with a third partner) rose to No. 1 on the R&B charts for Charles in 1966.

The couple then became staff writers for Motown and churned out a series of hits in the late 1960s for Gaye and his singing partner, Tammi Terrell, that included the rousing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Your Precious Love” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.”

Early in their career, Mr. Ashford primarily wrote lyrics while Simpson composed the music at a piano.
“We still don’t have a formula,” Mr. Ashford told The Washington Post in 1977. “I might think of a line or two. Valerie might hear me singing and try to catch up on the piano. But then I might hear her playing and come with an idea.”

The couple also wrote for Gladys Knight & the Pips, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, The Marvelettes, Teddy Pendergrass and Chaka Khan.

“They had magic, and that’s what creates those wonderful hits, that magic,” Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire told the Associated Press. “Without those songs, those artists wouldn’t have been able to go to the next level.”

Motown founder Berry Gordy objected when the songwriting duo wanted to branch out and pursue a performing career. As a result, they left Motown in 1973 and found considerable success as an R&B-disco crossover group well into the 1980s. Their 1984 hit “Solid (as a Rock)” reached No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 12 on the Billboard pop chart.

In 2005, Mr. Ashford told the Ann Arbor (Mich.) News that “Ain’t No Mountain” was inspired by his sense of awe in New York City: “I was walking in Central Park wondering how I was going to make it in the big city. It was so big with so many people. I looked up and the tall buildings were mountains. ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ is about being inspired by courage to make it.”