Following the death of Jerry Leiber (see David Lehman’s fine tribute below) comes the news that another half of another fine songwriting team – Nick Ashford of Ashford and Simpson – has died, at age 70. While I would never claim that Ashford and Simpson’s body of work is nearly as important as Leiber and Stoller's (the latter remained unequalled until Lennon-McCartney for the range and ambition of their pop songs), Ashford and Simpson made some very beautiful music together.
Early on in its career, the husband-and-wife team wrote hits for other duos, most notably Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was one early summit; “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing” was even better). As performers and producers as well as songwriters in the 1970s, Ashford and Simpson recorded a series of albums that presented something distinctive: a portrait of a classy, upwardly-mobile couple in love – with each other, and with success. Never smug, never taking love or material gain for granted, they were politely adventurous (no other classy duo coming out of the 1960s would have recorded an unironic instrumental called “Bourgie, Bourgie”) and extravagantly soulful on hits such as “Send It,” “Is It Still Good To Ya,” "By Way of Love's Express," and “Solid.”
Nick Ashford – tall, debonair, dashingly handsome – was a songwriter born to be a front-man. His skill and gracefulness were rare.