Nick Ashford, 70, wrote hits for Ray Charles, Diana Ross

Nick Ashford, 70, wrote hits for Ray Charles, Diana Ross

As a partner songs, Nick Ashford and his wife, Valerie Simpson, wrote chart-topping rhythm and blues hits for Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, and then went on to become stars themselves singing in the 1970s and 1980s, as Ashford & Simpson.

Ashford, 70, died August 22 in New York City from throat cancer, his publicist told the Associated Press.

He and his future wife began writing together in 1964 and found success early, when a one-time adjustment of the Party, "Let's Go Get Stoned" (written with a third partner) went to number 1 on the R & B charts for Charles in 1966.

A couple of staff writers later became Motown and churned out a series of hits in the late 1960s by Gaye and his singing partner, Tammi Terrell, which included inciting "Do not No Mountain High Enough", "Your Precious Love" and "Is not Nothing Like Real Thing ".

Early in his career, primarily Ashford wrote lyrics while Simpson has written music for piano.

"We still have no formula," Ashford told Washington Post, in 1977. "I could come up with one or two lines. Valerie could hear me singing and trying to catch up on the piano. But then I could hear her play and come up with an idea."

The pair also wrote for Gladys Knight and the Pips, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Marvelettes, Teddy Pendergrass and Chaka Khan.

"They were magic and that is what creates those wonderful hits that magic", Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire, told the Associated Press. "Without those songs, those artists would not be able to go to the next level."

Ross and The Supremes scored the hit "Do not No Mountain" in 1968. Two years later, she recorded a solo version, which became her first hit number 1.

Ashford and Simpson wrote and produced all but one song on the debut solo album, Ross "Diana Ross" (1970), including a durable hit "reach out and touch (Hand Some)."

"We've been friends a long time," Ross said in 1980, "and I knew what they were songwriters. ... Nick and Valerie were my good luck charm."

Motown founder Berry Gordy objected when the songs the duo wanted to branch out and pursue an artistic career. As a result, they left Motown in 1973 and found considerable success as an R & B-disco crossover of a well in the 1980s. Their hit 1984 "Solid (as a Rock)" reached number 1 on the R & B charts and number 12 on the pop chart Billboard.

During the presidential campaign in 2008, Ashford and Simpson struck to find a second life when "Saturday Night Live" skit to reconfigure it as "solid as Barack."

Nicholas Ashford was born in Fairfield, South Carolina, May 4, 1941. (Many reference sources claim that he was born a year later, but public records confirm his birth year in 1941.)

He grew up in Willow Run, Michigan, and received his musical start in a Baptist church. He briefly attended Eastern Michigan University before moving to New York to pursue a career as a dancer.

He slept on park benches and was homeless for several months when he met Simpson in a church in Harlem.

Soon they teamed up to write gospel songs before turning to songs about love.

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