As songwriters, performers and spouses, Nickolas “Nick” Ashford and Valerie Simpson highlight the power of unintended consequences. They first met in New York City, with Ashford traveling from his native Michigan to pursue a dance career. When auditions dried up for Ashford, Simpson invited him to apply his experience writing gospel songs in her church ensemble.
Gospel music for the church turned to selling pop songs on a freelance basis, which in turn led to what Simpson has described as a “fluke” success, Ray Charles singing Ashford and Simpson’s “Let’s Get Stoned” to national fame in 1966. The songwriting team then went on to write hits for Motown, including “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, as well as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” for Diana Ross.
Though they had initially planned to stay behind the scenes as songwriters, after a successful television performance Ashford and Simpson signed with Warner Bros. in 1973. The duo recorded eight albums with Warner Bros., including four gold albums, before signing with Capitol Records and cutting their signature song and blockbuster single, “Solid As A Rock.” The pair had initially also pursued a strictly professional relationship, but in 1974 became husband and wife.
Ashford and Simpson continued to write and produce for other artists such as Chaka Khan (“I’m Every Woman”) and Quincy Jones while recording and touring throughout their nearly forty-year career. In 2002, Ashford and Simpson were both inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame, with twenty-two gold and platinum records and more than fifty ASCAP Awards under their belt. Even the President is a fan: “Solid As Barack,” a takeoff on their signature hit, was featured at Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
In August 2011, Valerie Simpson lost her husband and artistic partner after his longtime battle with throat cancer. Simpson has expressed her sadness as well as her gratitude for her time and work with Ashford in several interviews. She also continues to exert a major influence on the music industry. In addition to her musical legacy, she released her first solo album in nearly forty years, currently serves on the Board of Directors for ASCAP and continues to host Sugar Bar in New York City, which Nick Ashford designed and opened in 1996. Sugar’s open microphone night has included Queen Latifah and most recently Ruben Studdard, who was joined by Simpson after the crowd insisted she come onstage. City Music is proud to honor Ashford and Simpson and their continuing impact on American popular music.