Nickolas Ashford, singer and songwriter from Ypsilanti, dies
Born in South Carolina, Ashford grew up in the Ypsilanti area and graduated from Willow Run High School. He was one of the original inductees into the Willow Run Hall of Fame.
As part of the Ashford & Simpson team with his wife, Valerie Simpson, Ashford wrote and/or produced a number of hit songs, including Ray Charles' "Let's Go Get Stoned" and Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman." They really hit their stride as part of the Motown Records operation, creating many of the hit duets by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, including "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need to Get By" and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing."
Other notable hits at Motown included the Marvelettes' "Destination: Anywhere" and Diana Ross' early solo hit "Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)."
After leaving Motown, the team branched out as a performing duo, finding a whole new run of success with their own hits, including "Found a Cure," "Love Don't Make it Right" and the 1984 smash "Solid." In a review of the "Solid" album, All Music Guide called the long-married pair "the prime representatives in R&B of the joys of wedded bliss."
In a 2005 interview with The Ann Arbor News, Ashford recalled, "It took me five years to stop sweating before I did a show ... But I feel very comfortable now. I guess it's because I feel comfortable with the audience. It's not like I'm trying to prove anything anymore."
Ashford & Simpson came back to the area in 2005 for an on-stage interview and concert at Washtenaw Community College, and the pair returned to play the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor in 2009 in a benefit performance for the nonprofit group The Links Inc.
"They had magic, and that's what creates those wonderful hits, that magic," Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire told the Associated Press after learning of his friend's death. "Without those songs, those artists wouldn't have been able to go to the next level."
Ashford is survived by his wife and two daughters, according to AP.
• MLive.com: 10 of the best Ashford & Simpson songs
• Washington Post: 1970s vintage profile of the duo and a concert review