F.A.M.E NYC Remembers Nick Ashford

“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” – a 1968 single released by Motown, sung by the incomparable Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.  For me this title is more than just a name to a classic song, it sums up my feelings for Nick Ashford.  On August 22, Nickolas Ashford lost his battle with throat cancer.  News of his death sent tremors throughout the music and dance communities that were stronger than the earthquake that made New York City the day after his death was announced.  Nick Ashford was a recording artist and one half of one of the most dynamic songwriting duos in R&B and pop music history. 

As part of Ashford & Simpson, he and his wife, Valerie Simpson not only recorded some great disco and R&B classics, they also helped to pen the “Motown Sound” and define disco. Together they turned Diana Ross into The Boss, influenced Ray Charles to Go Get Stoned, made Chaka Kahn into Every Woman and created magic for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell that anyone living on a mountain high or valley low could feel.  When they lifted their voices in song, they were as Solid as titanium.

In a sense, New York City was the genesis of Ashford & Simpson; they met at Harlem’s White Rock Baptist Church in 1963.  The Big Apple was their home and along with their singing and songwriting careers, the duo was also DJs for Manhattan’s KISS-FM and opened Sugar Bar, located on 254 West 72nd Street, in 1996.  Their music kept the dance floors of New York City’s most memorable clubs and parties packed with sweaty souls all singing their lyrics word for word, hustling, moving and not missing a beat.

As a music lover, his passing affects me deeply, but I know that when I step on a dance floor and hear my favorite Ashford &Simpson jam, “It Seems to Hang On”, I know I will lose it as I always have.  I will bring my hands to my mouth, kiss the sky, hold my hands up high and give thanks that a star like Nick Ashford was allowed to burn for 70 years and left such luminous memories behind in the form of music and lyrics that will survive until the end of ages.  My deepest condolences go out to his wife Valerie Simpson and their two daughters.   Personally, I cannot fathom the loss of a true life partner – a husband, father and business partner.  I hope she will find solace in the knowledge that she and her husband provided a voice and helped contributed to the soundtrack of an era where music was still about artistry, not branding, and that millions of music lovers mourn with her.  Nick Ashford’s funeral is planned for tomorrow at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church.  A repast is scheduled at Sugar Bar.

The Second Coming of LaTonya Blige

On a cool spring evening I made my way uptown to the Sugar Bar, located on West 72nd Street, for a listening party of a new artist.  But in reality, this was no ordinary new artist.   The listening party held in the restaurant owned by the iconic Ashford & Simpson was for LaTonya Blige, sister to Mary J. Blige the queen of hip hop /soul music. 

Most people would believe that for LaTonya the stakes are high.  She is following in the footsteps of her sister whose pioneering career paved the way for most R&B/hip hop divas in the game today.  If the project is not successful, she will be raked over the coals by the media.  But LaTonya is no stranger to the music industry. The Yonkers native has helped to co-manage, sing background vocals, co-write and co-produced songs for her sister as well as write and co-write songs for Mariah Carey and Faith Evans, all while balancing a family. 

As I watched LaTonya become humbled by the love and support she received on stage by family, friends and other guests, it became abundantly clear that the new incarnation of LaTonya Bilge in the music business is not about individual glory, it is about the love of music and the love she has for the most high.

Shortly after her listening party, I had the opportunity to ask LaTonya a few questions about her new music and singing with her sister.

1.   In the quest to get their material heard, most artists forget that music is a business.  How did the years co-managing your sister help you as you prepared to step into the spotlight?

I came from a music background. My father had his own band and my mother sang occasionally with him.  Working with my sister allowed me to take it to another level. I am a writer first, and then had my own publishing company. This showed me business perspectives as well.

2.   Has there ever been a time that you questioned pursuing singing as a career?

Yes, because it was everyone’s vision at some point, but not the [right] time for me. Now is the time I felt [like] pursuing singing.

3.   What events inspired you to want to sing gospel music?

I was asked to write a song for an artist to a track.  For some reason I couldn’t write R&B lyrics, inspirational was what flowed. My original plan was to do a compilation album. I wanted many artists to participate, such as Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin, etc.  I let my sister listen to the songs and she asked me, “Why aren’t you doing this as your own album?” 

4.   You have sung background for your sister Mary and also co-written songs with her.  How did it feel working with your sister on your songs?

Nice, we always had good chemistry together.

5.   What do you say when people compare you to your sister Mary?  

There is no comparison. My sister has been in this industry [over] 20 years crafting her talent and I’m brand new.

6.   You had a listening party at the Sugar Bar.  Describe your feelings as you sang for your family, friends and Ashford and Simpson.

Wonderful, the love and support from family and friends can’t be measured.

7.   What would you like your fans and people listening to your songs for the first time to take away from your music?

To view it simply as music [and] not to categorize, listen to the words in the song and hopefully it will help my listeners.


 Photos: http://www.myspace.com/latonyablige