“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.