Ashford & Simpson

As songwriters and performers, Ashford & Simpson have long ranked among the most acclaimed and admired creative couples in contemporary music. Their award-winning collaborations began, incredibly, over four decades ago in 1964. After meeting in New York at the White Rock Baptist Church, they recorded an original song, “I’ll Find You,” calling themselves “Valerie & Nick.” Nickolas Ashford had just moved to New York from Detroit in pursuit of a theater career, having completed a course in modern dance at the University of Michigan. Homeless upon arrival, he happened upon Bronx native Valerie Simpson, who had studied piano since the age of five, and was playing and singing with the Harlem church’s legendary choir.

Nick joined the choir and the two began writing songs. They were soon signed to the legendary Scepter Records as staff songwriters, breaking through in 1966 when Ray Charles landed a major hit with their composition “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” This led to their signing with Motown Records, where they penned the classic Marvin Gaye / Tammi Terrell hits “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Your Precious Love,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “You’re All I Need to Get By,” and “Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy to Come By.” They also wrote hits for other Motown greats, most notably Diana Ross who launched her solo career with a hit remake of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” that was also produced by Ashford & Simpson, as were such later Ashford & Simpson–written hits as “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “The Boss.”

It was with Warner Bros. Records that the by now married Ashford & Simpson fully realized their artistic vision. From 1973 to 1981 they released nine albums, yielding such unforgettable hits as “Send It,” “Don’t Cost You Nothin’,” “It Seems to Hang On,” “Love Don’t Make it Right,” “Is It Still Good to Ya,” and “Found a Cure.” The hit-making continued after a move to Capitol Records in 1982, with “Street Corner,” “Highrise,” “I’ll Be There for You,” and of course, “Solid,” which topped the R&B chart in 1984 and crossed over to No. 12 on the pop singles chart. All the while they continued writing and producing for other artists, including Ben E. King, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Chaka Khan (writing her hit “I’m Every Woman”), and Quincy Jones.

In 1996 Nick and Val formed their own label, Hopsack & Silk, and released Been Found, an acclaimed music/poetry album collaboration with their friend Maya Angelou. That same year the ASCAP presented them with its highest honor, the Founder's Award, and in 1999 they received the Pioneer Award from the prestigious Rhythm & Blues Foundation. In 2002 they joined the pantheon of popular music songwriters when they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Their music remains continuously in play: Ryan Shaw’s Grammy-nominated cover of “I Am Your Man” in the Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance category returns an Ashford & Simpson Motown-era composition (originally recorded by the likes of the Four Tops and Bobby Taylor) to the forefront. Indeed, hardly a year goes by without some notable artist reviving an Ashford & Simpson classic, as Whitney Houston did in 1993 with “I’m Every Woman”; as Method Man and Mary J. Blige did in 1995 with their Grammy-winning medley of “I’ll Be There For You / You’re All I Need To Get By”; or most recently, as Amy Winehouse did on “Tears Dry on Their Own,” which built on the music from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

And of all the many honors and awards that have been earned and bestowed upon them, two stand out as special milestones. For Val, it’s her name on a street sign in the Bronx Walk of Fame, in commemoration of her achievements by her proud neighborhood. And Val herself presented Bryant Park with a park bench inscribed with “Nick Ashford slept here,” symbolizing the long journey they’ve traveled together since that fateful day at White Rock Baptist.

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Jessye Norman