Nick Ashford, one half of Ashford & Simpson, dies aged 69

Nick Ashford, pictured with his wife and songwriting partner, Valerie Simpson, in 2009
Nick Ashford, pictured with his wife and songwriting partner, Valerie Simpson, in 2009 (Image credit: Sara De Boer/Retna Ltd./Corbis)

Nick Ashford, who with his wife, Valerie Simpson, made up the legendary Motown songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson, responsible for timeless, soulful classics for the likes of Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and many others, died yesterday at the age of 69.

According to a family friend, publicist Liz Rosenberg, Ashford passed away in a New York City hospital. Rosenberg told The Associated Press that he had been suffering from throat cancer and had undergone radiation treatment.

A South Carolina native, Ashford moved to New York City to pursue a dancing career. It was in Manhattan that he met Valerie Simpson, who later became his wife. The two started out writing music for Scepter Records. Their big breakthrough happened in 1966 when Ray Charles scored a hit with their song Let's Go Get Stoned.

Signing to Motown as writers, Ashford & Simpson penned smashes such as Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Your Precious Love and Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing.

The songwriting team, who lived in New York, who go on to pen an impressive string of hit songs for a long list of recording artists, including Ben E King, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Teddy Pendergrass, Chaka Kahn and Whitney Houston, among others. As songwriters and producers, they helmed three albums for Diana Ross: Diana Ross, Surrender and The Boss.

Ashford & Simpson also had success as recording artists in their own right. The two released nine albums between 1973 and 1981. Their hit Solid topped the R&B chart in 1984 and crossed over to number 12 on the Pop Singles chart.

In recent years, the pair continued to perform. They also were owners of the New York City restaurant Sugar Bar, where many big names and emerging talents would put on showcases.

Legendary songwriters Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, who defined the Philadelphia soul sound of the '70s, paid their respects to Nick Ashford in this joint statement: "Nick Ashford was truly one of our favorite songwriting colleagues and producers. He and Valerie Simpson had a major impact on Gamble & Huff's songwriting career, as Nick was responsible for producing a song we wrote, I'm Gonna Make You Love Me, with Motown. Nick heard the song after we wrote it for Dee Dee Warwick and made it a major hit for Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations together.

"We also worked with Ashford & Simpson on Is It Still Good To You, which they wrote for Teddy Pendergrass, and they did an excellent job. We're longtime admirers of Ashford & Simpson as one of the greatest songwriting teams ever. Nick was a multi-talented artist, and he will be truly, truly missed by both of us."

Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.