We’d only just begun to mourn the loss of songwriter Jerry Leiber when we got word that Nickolas Ashford, half of the songwriting and performing duo Ashford & Simpson, had also passed away at 70 after a battle with throat cancer. If Leiber and Stoller soundtracked the R&B of the pre-Beatles era, Ashford & Simpson were, alongside Holland/Dozier/Holland, their spiritual successors. Nick Ashford had a hand in writing “You’re All I Need To Get By” and many more Motown hits, not just for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell but also a slew of other artists, notably Diana Ross. With Ashford & Simpson producing, Ross scored a number of solo hits with both older Ashford & Simpson compositions like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and new ones like “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).”
Even as they wrote and produced hit after hit for Motown, they notoriously butted heads with its founder, Berry Gordy, insisting on retaining the rights to their compositions and productions. Their often-bitter struggle paved the way for songwriters of all stripes to protect their intellectual property.
All of this is not to mention the duo’s illustrious career as a performing duo, scoring R&B hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s, crossing over to the pop charts most successfully with “Solid” in 1984. They have continued to perform and record together. Above, watch the duo perform “Gimme Something Real” in New York City in 2006.