Nick Ashford Tribute

Tavis pays tribute to the lyricist half of the legendary singing and songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson.

Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson turned their initial meeting as choir mates in a Baptist church in Harlem into the real thing—a multifaceted career as the most successful husband and wife songwriting-production team in music history. With Ashford writing lyrics and Simpson the music, and as notable performers in their own right, the power couple was responsible for mammoth pop/soul classic hits for more than four decades and, in '02, inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Sadly, Nick Ashford passed away recently, at age 70.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Along with his wife, Valerie Simpson, Nick Ashford penned some of the most memorable songs in Motown history – classic hits for Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan and more.

In 2009, the dynamic songwriting duo joined us here for a terrific conversation about their life together and their remarkable career in the music business.

[Begin previously recorded Ashford & Simpson interview]

Tavis: I was telling you before we came on the camera here how honored I am just to see y’all in Los Angeles. Y’all just don’t come this way very often no more.

Nick Ashford: Well, we keep waiting for you call us out here. (Laughter)

Tavis: Oh, please.

Valerie Simpson: See, all you had to do was call.

Tavis: Of course, as you know, every time I’m in New York, I’m coming to see y’all.

Ashford: Yeah, you came to see us at Feinstein’s. It was good to look out there and see your face.

Simpson: Yeah.

Tavis: Yeah, I loved it.

Ashford: It was good.

Tavis: I stay at the same hotel in New York most of the time and it’s been so weird because, every time I check in, the first thing I look for is to see who’s playing at Feinstein’s. I’ve been missing y’all – I miss you by one day here, (laughter) they were just here, they come in tomorrow and I’m leaving today. So the last time I was there, the timing was perfect.

Simpson: Yes, it was.

Ashford: Right, it was.

Tavis: It’s amazing to see y’all still doing this after all these years, and I get the sense, watching you, that you still love this just as much as you always did.

Simpson: Well, it’s true. I mean, you can’t -

Tavis: The performing part.

Simpson: That part is so exciting. You feel the love really coming at you. You can’t buy that.

Ashford: It’s quite different, the kind of love you get in a smaller club and the kind of love you get on a big proscenium stage. It’s quite different. I like both of them, but I’m in love with the smaller, intimate club.

Tavis: What do you like about that? What I love about it as a consumer is that I can – I mean, Nick’s sweat was on me that night. That’s how intimate – (laughter) I was like, dang, Nick.

Ashford: (Laughter) Well, I know.

Simpson: It’s truly reach out and touch time. (Laughs)

Tavis: I can see why we, the audience, love the intimate space, because we get a chance to be so close to you. What do you love, as performers, about that intimate space?

Simpson: I like the fact that something different happens every night. Our responses are different. It causes the audience to interact with you. They start talking back to you and you have to go off-program, and I like that.

Ashford: And you never can get un-real, because on a big stage, you can go back somewhere behind the curtain -

Simpson: Hide.

Ashford: – wipe off the sweat, and then I’m fresh again. But right on the stage there, like, and they’re looking you right in the eye like that, it’s a beautiful communication.

Simpson: Oh, they got you.

Ashford: They’re not far away; they’re just right up on you. You feel their souls and they feel ours.

Tavis: Here’s an impossible question I’m going to ask anyway, Val. What is it, what was it, that y’all tapped into when you started writing this string of hits? I ask that because there are a lot of songwriters. You’re on the board of ASCAP, so there are all kinds of songwriters, many of whom, most of whom, never get a song published, never get stars to sing the songs that they write, never get a chance to put this stuff out themselves.

What was it about this duo, about your style? What did you tap into when you started writing all these hits that worked so well? Do you know what it is after all these years?

Ashford: I think it was the spirit, the passion, in the music. I don’t think we can write anything that we don’t both smile at the end and say, “Oh, that feels good.” You’ve got to feel that passion, and I think when you feel it as a writer, I think the audience will – it’ll just sink into them the same way.

Simpson: When Nick came up with the idea of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” it was coming from such a real place because he was walking down Central Park West -

Ashford: I was walking down Central Park West and the buildings were so tall and I was so hungry and pitiful at the time (laughter).

Simpson: Trying to make it.

Ashford: I needed real help in New York and I had no friends. I looked up at those buildings, I couldn’t see the sky or nothing, and I said, “Well, there ain’t no mountain high enough,” and I just started – the words just fell out of my mouth, really.

Simpson: So that’s a real place that that came from, so now people use it the way they need it, yeah.

Ashford: Right.

Tavis: You know what’s amazing, as many times as I’ve heard all the stuff that y’all do – as you know, I’m a huge fan, as I said earlier – it just occurred to me today when I was looking at the back of this CD that y’all are in love with the word “ain’t”.

Simpson: Isn’t that true?

Tavis: We got “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough -”

Ashford: Oh, you’re the first person that brought that up.

Tavis: – “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.”

Simpson: “Ain’t That Good Enough.”

Tavis: “Ain’t That Good Enough, yeah.”

Simpson: We got lots of ain’ts on.

Tavis: Yeah, y’all love – is that you?

Ashford: I have to check myself. (Laughter)

Simpson: And your English teacher was not pleased.

Ashford: And I was good in English. (Laughter) It wasn’t like I was bad or nothing.

Tavis: I said, I have never seen two Negroes in my life make more money off bad English than Nick and Val.

Ashford: I love the sound of that word.

Simpson: Well, he – don’t blame me. He did -

Ashford: I ain’t (unintelligible).

Tavis: you like the sound of it, though?

Ashford: I love the sound of that word. Don’t you think it’s beautiful?

Tavis: I love it. I use it all the time.

Ashford: “I ain’t gonna do it. You can’t make me.” (Laughter)

Simpson: Well, just remember he does the words, see. Don’t blame me. (Laughter)

Simpson: Yeah, don’t blame -

Tavis: Berry Gordy was on this program some weeks back. I was honored to have him, because you know Berry don’t do very many interviews.

Simpson: That’s true.

Tavis: Y’all don’t do a whole lot either, but Berry Gordy, the Chairman – hey, Mr. Chairman – does very few interviews. He came on this show and sat right here and the conversation got so rich that what was supposed to be one appearance turned into a two-night conversation.

Simpson: Wow.

Ashford: Oh, wow.

Tavis: The dialogue was that rich. Because at the end of the first show -

Simpson: That’s 50 years.

Tavis: You see this? At the end of the first show we haven’t even gotten into the music yet, so I had to ask him to stay for another night so we could do -

Ashford: That was so good.

Tavis: People loved it and people are still writing us and emailing us. We’ll repeat it at some point in this year because it is the 50th anniversary of Motown.

Simpson: Right.

Ashford: And he’s the man.

Tavis: He is indeed.

Ashford: He’s the man.

Tavis: I asked Mr. Gordy that night, because I knew the back story because I’d heard y’all talk about to me so many times but I wanted to hear his take on this, so I said, “Do you recall the first time Nick came to Hitsville and pitched those first songs?” He said, “Oh, do I ever.” (Laughter) So he told the story of who was in the room and Nick was nervous.

I’m going to let you tell it again for those who didn’t see that conversation, but tell me about the first time that you took your and Val’s stuff to Hitsville and sat in that – I’ll let you tell the story.

Ashford: Well, there’s several stories. The first time we went in we were both so nervous, and Mr. Gordy said, “I know you wrote that song, ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned,’” but he said, “We don’t need no songs like that here. We’ve got fabulous artists that -”

Tavis: Before you go forward, but since you mentioned it – I don’t want to leave this good stuff out here – he was referring to a song called “Let’s Go Get Stoned” sung by Ray Charles.

Ashford: Ray Charles.

Tavis: That was y’all’s first big hit.

Simpson: First big hit.

Ashford: First big hit.

Simpson: Which got us noticed.

Tavis: It got you noticed. So Berry Gordy said, “We don’t need no ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’ kind of stuff (unintelligible) Ray Charles. (Laughter)

Ashford: We don’t need – he said, “We got classy acts like Diana Ross, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye.” So Val and I, we had to – wow. We didn’t have that song at the time so we went back to New York and then we locked ourselves up. I tell the story all the time.

Tavis: Tell it, tell it.

Ashford: We locked ourselves up in the room and we stayed in that room -

Simpson: Till the spirit moved.

Ashford: Till the spirit moved and we came out. Then that’s when we bought our own ticket back to Detroit, went to see Mr. Gordy.

Tavis: Right. Tell us the whole story. Tell it, tell it, tell it. I love the story.

Simpson: Well, I wish I had a piano up in here right now.

Ashford: The secretary said, “He’s busy.” Val said, “No, he’s not.” (Laughter) She walked into the office and Mr. Gordy’s sitting at his desk, and she just started to sit down to the piano.

I’m looking at Mr. Gordy and I said, “Mr. Gordy, I think we have what you’re looking for,” and then Val hit that piano and I hit it. (Singing) “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby,” and Mr. Gordy was sitting there like -

Simpson: OK.

Ashford: – “Hmmm.” (Laughter) But it just went on and we just illustrated the songs we had been preparing for Motown.

Simpson: We never lived in Detroit. We always would fly in, so we were the “kids” from New York to them.

Ashford: Right. But I remember the best story about Mr. Gordy is when I went to a quality control meeting.

Tavis: That’s it, yeah.

Ashford: Val wasn’t with me on that trip.

Simpson: No.

Ashford: They had this board called quality control, and they were playing the songs. They played a Norman Whitfield song and they’d pass their notes around and Berry would say, “No, needs a little more work.” Played a Smokey song, “Mm, good, but needs a little more work.”

Tavis: And Smokey was the biggest they had at the time -

Ashford: Oh, yeah (unintelligible). (Laughter)

Tavis: – and they passed on Smokey’s stuff.

Ashford: Oh, it scared the – and then our song came up, so you know how I felt. I said, “Oh, jeez, I might as well buy my ticket back to New York.” (Laughter) Then they played the song and after they played the song there was silence and I said, “Oh, God.”

Berry said, “I don’t think we need to release this one. I think we’re just going to send it out.” Woo! (Laughter) Well, that made my day. I was the toast of the meeting, of course. I’ll never forget that one.

Tavis: Y’all did some stuff – a number of groups, and we’ll talk about them in a second, but I want to start with Marvin and Tammi. Tell me about them and why that duo – God rest both their souls – why that duo seemed – not seemed; were, in fact, so well matched to the stuff that y’all wrote? Why’d that work so well, those two voices?

Ashford: I think they had such an incredible blend, too, and Marvin, he’s a true artist. He can work with another artist, he can change his tone to make it blend with yours a little better, and that’s what you call a true artist. Valerie won’t do that for me. (Laughter) If she see I need help, she just go on. Let him struggle. (Laughter)

Simpson: Well, just go on and tell the truth.

Ashford: The two of them together, that blend, it was like ice cream and cookies or whatever you want to call it. It’s just a good blend.

Tavis: Diana and the Supremes, what made that work?

Simpson: Well, I think our biggest coup was really when Diana was leaving and we got the chance to write her solo album. That really -

Tavis: I should have just said Diana, exactly, yeah.

Simpson: Right. So her version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” really stands out as one of the greatest things I’m proudest of.

Ashford: At the time, Isaac Hayes was doing those long songs.

Tavis: With Stax, yeah.

Ashford: Yeah, right, and we didn’t have any long songs. Not six minutes -

Simpson: We were still three-minute kids.

Ashford: We were still three-minute songwriters.

Tavis: Isaac was the first one to really do that, though, to stretch things out like that.

Simpson: Yes, he did.

Ashford: Yeah, he was the first one. So we wanted to get something like that, so realizing Diana Ross had that sexy voice, I said, “Let me rewrite some of these lyrics, slow this joker down, put a little grandeur to it, make it real sexy,” and she delivered. She really did.

Simpson: She did. Now you know Berry did not hear that, though.

Tavis: He didn’t hear what?

Simpson: When we -

Ashford: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Simpson: When we presented it to him -

Ashford: Oh, he didn’t tell you that story?

Simpson: He didn’t tell you that?

Tavis: He didn’t tell me that. No, no, no, no.

Ashford: Well, he didn’t tell you everything.

Simpson: Oh, that’s -

Tavis: Mr. Gordy. (Laughter)

Ashford: Oh, no. He didn’t tell you the truth.

Tavis: No. Tell the rest of it, then.

Ashford: Oh, the truth is -

Tavis: What happened on this one?

Ashford: – when we produced that first album with Diana Ross, we took it in to Mr. Gordy and he said, “I really liked this ‘Ain’t No Mountain,’ the way you did it, but I want you to take the back -

Simpson: The big part.

Ashford: -”the big part on the end and I want you to put it right up front.” I said -

Simpson: Start out with all the excitement.

Tavis: The whole orchestra.

Simpson: Yeah.

Ashford: I said, “Mr. Gordy,” I said, “I don’t think that’ll work.” He said, “Well, that’s the way I hear it. I want you to put it back.” I said, “Well, let us think on it.”

Simpson: We’ll think about it.

Ashford: We’ll think about it. So we went away a couple of days and came back and sat with Mr. Gordy. We said, “We don’t think that’ll work because this song is kind of like it has an orgasm to it.”

Tavis: It builds.

Ashford: It builds, right.

Tavis: I like the way it builds, yeah, yeah.

Ashford: And it builds. He said, “Well, okay, if you’re not going do it the way I want it” – you know you said this, Mr. Gordy – he said, “It won’t be released.”

Tavis: Right.

Simpson: Can’t release it.

Ashford: Can’t release it unless you do – and Val and I stuck to our guns and we said, “Well, we’re going to keep it our way.” After they released the album -

Simpson: After “Reach Out and Touch.”

Ashford: After “Reach Out and Touch,” the DJs all over the country -

Simpson: Started playing it.

Ashford: – started playing “Ain’t No Mountain” in spite of his thoughts. (Laughter) I loved it when we used to walk down the corridor at Motown -

Simpson: Oh, we never brought it up.

Ashford: – after it was number one.

Simpson: We never brought it up.

Tavis: Yeah, y’all never said nothing.

Ashford: Oh, I wanted to so bad. (Laughter) I wanted to say, “Remember when you -”

Tavis: Yeah. But y’all just kept on walking down the hallway.

Simpson: Just kept on walking.

Ashford: Just kept walking. We never brought it up.

Tavis: Well, you have now.

Simpson: Well, now we have. (Laughter)

Tavis: I think Mr. Gordy’s going to know about it now, how you really felt all those years. What’s amazing about it, though, to his credit, though, to his credit, it just goes to show you – and I celebrate y’all for this – when you stand in your truth, when you know what is right, the way you hear it as the songwriter, you got to hold on to that.

Simpson: Right.

Ashford: Oh, yeah.

Tavis: He was very honest and admitted in that conversation earlier this year that he was wrong about that. He didn’t admit that part, but he admitted he was wrong about Marvin’s biggest hit.

Simpson: “What’s Going On.”

Tavis: “What’s Going On.”

Simpson: That sat for a year.

Tavis: He did not want that song to come out.

Simpson: Yeah, right. He thought it would -

Tavis: He thought it was the wrong song.

Simpson: Right.

Tavis: Marvin was his smooth lover-man and all that sultry sound. He’s like, “The women love you. Why are you going to sing a protest song called ‘What’s Going On?’” He was wrong about it and we all know that was one of the best songs ever written.

Ashford: Ain’t that something?

Tavis: So he admitted to that, so he’s fallible like the rest of us. When you’re putting together a show after all these years and all these hits, does the playlist change from night to night, from venue to venue? How do you decide per show, per audience, when you’ve done as many hits as y’all have done, what needs to be on the show that night?

Simpson: Well, it has a lot to do with who we’re performing for and whether they love you already. If we are lucky enough to be the headliner, then you kind of know they love you. If you are opening for somebody, then you want to put the stuff on there that’ll get instant recognition so they will know you through your music.

Fortunately for us we think of ourselves really as songwriters that sing. So when we get up there and we start into these songs that, “Oh, I didn’t they wrote that,” “Oh, they wrote that too,” that really helps us out with new audiences.

Ashford: It changes too, because you have to be ready to change on the spot.

Simpson: We’ve done that too.

Ashford: We ran on the stage and if the audience, we don’t feel the right love coming from the audience and you feel yourself dying -

Simpson: We have to work tonight.

Ashford: – you’ve got to turn around to your conductor (makes noise) and (laughter) change it immediately, because you don’t want to die. So you can have your program, but you also have to be ready to change it immediately because there are certain kinds of people who like certain kinds of songs and they like – some people want to dance when you come out, some people just want to be intimate with you. So you kind of feel your way through a show.

Simpson: I remember we were in Europe and we looked at each other – the audience was so quiet, we said, “Oh, we are dying tonight.”

Ashford: Oh, I remember that too.

Simpson: We’re dying, and we kept changing.

Ashford: Changing.

Simpson: We did the encore, we put that in early. (Laughter)

Ashford: We did everything.

Simpson: We did everything -

Ashford: All the good stuff. (Laughter)

Simpson: We changed the whole – and then by the end of the show, the audience stood up, screaming. They loved us, but we saw nothing.

Ashford: They didn’t give us no response, so we kept saying, “Well, change this, put this in.” Then when it was over, they -

Simpson: They went bananas.

Ashford: – stomped, they went crazy. We didn’t have nothing left, though. (Laughter)

Simpson: Then we had no encore. (Laughter) We had no encore.

Ashford: We didn’t have nothing left.

Tavis: It’s funny you say that. I remember the first time – here I grew up not just in a Black church, I grew up in a Pentecostal church.

Simpson: All right, now.

Tavis: So you know we jumping and singing and speaking in tongues all day long -

Simpson: All the time, mm-hmm.

Tavis: – for hours at a time, so I’m used to that kind of energy. I eventually go to college and now I’m getting exposed to Frankie Beverly and Maze and Ashford & Simpson and Prince, so I’m used to this energy. The first time I went to a Beethoven concert, and I couldn’t get how – and I loved the music, but I wanted to clap and stand up all during the thing.

Ashford: (Unintelligible) the parts you like, right.

Tavis: “Negro, sit down.” Then I got it – at the end, when the whole thing is over, then the audience stands up and, “Encore, bravo, bravo.”

Ashford: (Unintelligible) Ten encores, yeah.

Tavis: Ten – they would applaud for 20 minutes at the end. See, Black folk ain’t like that.

Simpson: No, no, we go -

Tavis: We got to get into it in the right now.

Simpson: Absolutely.

Tavis: We got to get down right now (unintelligible). I hadn’t learned that, though.

Simpson: We need that. We need that to keep going. We’re better when you let us know you love us. Then we get good.

Tavis: I felt bad when I saw you all at Feinstein’s. I was over there yelling and screaming (unintelligible). (Laughter) They were probably saying, “Tavis, will you calm down?”

Simpson: No, we love that.

Tavis: You said something a moment ago I want to go back and get. You and Nick, you suggested, see yourselves as songwriters who sing and not singers who write songs.

Simpson: Right.

Tavis: That’s an important distinction for you.

Simpson: Mm-hmm.

Tavis: Why?

Simpson: Because we started as – actually, we started as Valerie and Nick, and we soon realized -

Tavis: I wanted to ask you about that, how you became Ashford & Simpson.

Simpson: We realized then that the singing thing was secondary to what we should be doing, and we became songwriters. People said, “Well, why didn’t you just sing those songs yourself?”

Because we were songwriters and the dream is to have somebody wonderful like a Diana Ross sing your song, interpret it and take it all the way up there, and that’s what happened to us.

Tavis: How do you subject your ego to that reality? When you know that you can sing, but you know that somebody else’s treatment on this thing may make this thing go to the top of the charts, how do you subject your ego to say, “You know what? I’m going to give this one to them because I know that Diana, I know that Marvin and Tammi, I know they can work this thing.”

Ashford: I think in those days we didn’t have those feelings. I think we just wanted to write and write some hot songs. People have asked us, “Why didn’t you keep that song for yourself?” but it never entered our minds.

Simpson: It never did.

Ashford: We had no problem with that.

Simpson: Also, writing for Marvin and Tammi, because they were a duet, it was like we were in a groove and once you get in that groove it’s like a team. That was our part of the job, to give them -

Ashford: We weren’t even singing at that time, right.

Simpson: Yeah, we were – I didn’t know you could sing back then. (Laughter)

Ashford: Because you know when I started singing, I wasn’t prepared. It took me five years. They used to wrap my body up in towels before I went onstage.

Simpson: He would sweat so much.

Ashford: I would just sweat so much. I’d be dry when I run on the stage. By the time I got in front of the microphone, it just (makes noise), just like a river pouring out. I don’t know what made that happen. It took five years for that to stop happening to me.

Simpson: For him to believe that the people loved him enough before he could stop. (Laughter)

Tavis: I know this story and I know your hardcore fans know the story, but since y’all been together so long, for those who haven’t heard the story, y’all got together how?

Ashford: We met in church. I was homeless and I went up to -

Simpson: – White Rock Baptist Church.

Ashford: Someone told me to go up there and get a meal.

Simpson: My church.

Ashford: When I walked in the church, I remember I saw Valerie. She was singing with three girls and she was just rocking. I said, “Hmmm, kind of cute.” I (unintelligible) but I was so hungry I really couldn’t deal with that then. (Laughter)

Tavis: She’s cute, but that chicken sure smelled good.

Ashford: I couldn’t wait for service to be over. (Laughter) So after service they went downstairs and the sisters had that chicken, and I had collard greens and chicken -

Simpson: We welcomed him because he’s from out of town.

Ashford: Oh, she was very – she was so sweet.

Simpson: We didn’t know his back story. We didn’t know he was homeless. But we did find out that he wrote gospel songs and our little group needed some songs, and because I played the piano and he wrote gospel songs, we just hooked up right away.

Ashford: It was natural.

Tavis: That’s amazing.

Ashford: Mm-hmm.

Tavis: Wow.

Ashford: And like you say, we used to be Valerie and Nick. Well, when we went to Motown, this is why – you know, ladies are generally first, so the reason her name is after mine now, when we went to Motown I was kind of quiet, kind of laid back, cool. You couldn’t upset me for nothing.

Then Valerie (unintelligible) the piano and she’d be killing them, and then they’d swoop Valerie away like she did everything. (Laughter) I’m still laying up there, cool. I said, “Am I invited to the party?” So I realized that kept happening more and more.

Tavis: Right.

Ashford: So when we got back to New York, I said, “Val, something’s got to change.” I said, “No one thinks I did anything.” I said, “But you know what we could do? Put my name first and if it’s Ashford & Simpson, they’ll know with my name first I had to have something to do with it.” (Laughter)

Tavis: Something to do with it. (Laughter)

Ashford: So that’s -

Tavis: I love the honesty of that story. Brother said, “Put my name first, Val.”

Ashford: Yeah, that’s how it was reversed. (Laughter)

Tavis: On my very, very first flight to L.A. – I wasn’t living here, I wasn’t working here; this is long before TV, long before Tom Bradley, which preceded TV – my very first flight to L.A. – and I hadn’t even flown before – first flight to L.A., flying from Indiana where I grew up all the way to L.A. I’m on a plane and there’s a woman in front of me who had gotten just downright drunk. She stood up in the seat at 38,000 square feet and insisted on performing for the entire plane “Solid.”

Simpson: No.

Tavis: Yes.

Simpson: No.

Tavis: Took off her top.

Simpson: No.

Tavis: Just got buck wild with it.

Ashford: Oh. (Laughter)

Simpson: What’d you say?

Tavis: The flight attendants had to shut that thing down. But I was like, “What is this song, ‘Solid?’ Is she a singer?” That’s how I got introduced to that song.

Simpson: Oh, my goodness.

Tavis: But that’s neither here nor there. So y’all kind of tweaked it a little bit and now it’s not just “Solid as a Rock,” it’s “Solid as Barack.”

Ashford: “Solid As Barack,” right.

Tavis: How’d that happen?

Simpson: Well, now, no, no.

Tavis: How’d that happen?

Simpson: That started right out here in L.A.

Ashford: Yeah, we didn’t actually do that.

Simpson: In L.A., right here.

Ashford: In L.A., right.

Simpson: It started here. We were doing a concert, I think, for Black Enterprises and during “Solid as a Rock” I put the mike out to the audience, expecting them to say “solid as a rock,” and these two ladies down front starting saying, “solid as Barack.”

Ashford: Then you got, all of a sudden, 3,000 people saying, “solid as Barack.”

Simpson: Three thousand people are saying, “solid as Barack.”

Ashford: So when we got back to New York, at Feinstein – Val will tell the story of how that happened to us – and the guy from “The New York Times” -

Simpson: Stephen Holden. He wrote about it.

Ashford: He wrote about it.

Tavis: Music critic, yeah.

Ashford: Then “Saturday Night Live” picked it up, so we had to do something.

Simpson: People were like, you got to – so Nick wrote the tribute.

Ashford: Right.

Tavis: So now on iTunes -

Simpson: Yeah.

Ashford: Yeah, right. (Laughter) It’s got all new lyrics and everything.

Tavis: Yeah. Go to iTunes for “Solid as Barack.”

Ashford: It can be your ring tone. (Laughter)

Simpson: Indeed. Actually when you buy the CD you can put it in your computer and you can also have “Solid as Barack” as an extra.

Ashford: Mm-hmm.

Tavis: Wow. I can talk to y’all for hours because I just – I appreciate more than anything else not just your gift, but your humanity. What makes your lyrical content stand out as compared to others is the humanity that’s in that lyric.

Simpson: Oh -

Ashford: Thank you.

Tavis: I mean that. It’s just a beautiful thing. Nick and Val, or Ashford & Simpson.

Ashford: – and Simpson. (Laughter) Get it right, now.

Tavis: Ashford & Simpson.

[End previously recorded Ashford & Simpson interview]

Tavis: When Nick Ashford passed away last week at the age of 70, Motown founder Berry Gordy said this: “I will remember his warm smile, his great heart and the wonderful songs he left us with. Despite my personal sorrow, I know we will be celebrating his life forever.”

Whether you knew Nick Ashford personally or were just touched by his music, his life and legacy will live on through song for generations to come.

[Walmart - Save money. Live better.]

“Announcer:” Nationwide Insurance supports Tavis Smiley. With every question and every answer, Nationwide Insurance is proud to join Tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. Nationwide is on your side.

At Toyota, we celebrate differences and the people who make them. Toyota – proud supporter of the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation.

And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

  • McKinley E. Marshall

    It’s a shame one has to pass on to the next life before everyone realize how great they were. Sobeit Nick Ashford. Truly, the worlds lost is Heavens Gain.

  • Saat-Rai Amnwt

    Tavis, where the songs of Ashford and Simpson are concerned, each time I pick a favorite, the next song plays and then I have 2 then 3…They are ALL favorites. :-) Love this Duo 4-ever

  • Deborah J. Steele

    Greetings: To My Dearest Tavis … To answer your above question, my favorite song: ‘SEND IT” & “SOMEBODY TOLD A LIE” … “Thanks in bunches!” … This would definitely, be a “wonderful Birthday present to me!” … My birthday is tomorrow: (8/31), and I will be sure to watch the program, on channel 30, here in Atlanta, at: (1:00 AM) … “Blessings!” …(smile) …

  • Deborah J. Steele

    A TREASURED TRIBUTE …

    To: (Mrs. Valerie Simpson & Our Beloved “Nick” Ashford) … “You’re both a “very special couple” indeed! … who have “so willingly”, shared (openly) your (“enduring love” relationship, between one another) with us all; which, has been expressed through all of your (“many” beautiful love ballads) you‘ve “collectively” have “created and produced” so “unselfishly” … (We) your fans and listeners, truly, appreciate your shared “gift of music” which, has “over the many years”, truly “transformed & captivated” the hearts & minds of many” … “THANKS FOR THE COUNT-LESS BLESSINGS!” …

    Sincerely, with Blessings & Beyond Measure,
    “Your Friend & Life time Fan”
    Ms. Deborah J. Steele
    8/30/11 @ 7:00 PM

  • L B Johnson

    God’s comfort and blessings to the Ashford-Simpson family and their loved ones. How is it that people we never know personally can have such a profound effect on our lives? Then, should they “pass”, it’s as if part of our own life’s tapestry becomes unravelled. I loved “Send It” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, and can’t forget, “Your Precious Love”. Ashford and Simpson’s music, their passion, their togetherness all demonstrated the beauty of being in love. As a teen in the ’70′s, it left an indelible impression on me. I am grateful for their years of commitment to each other and to their art. They were, indeed, a unique pair. May Nicholas Ashford be at peace.

  • Charles W. Artis

    I think the song that means the most to me is “Gimme Something Real” It stay alive because it’s structure allows you to improvise. “Mainline” is the only one that made obvious reference
    to Jesus Christ as God. Although Christian principles and allusions were included in Reach out
    and touch somebody’s hand. Valerie, continue to Let love use you. Harden Not Your heart,
    Let The Lord be your Landlord because God Is and what you got to say about Destiny?

  • Yolanda Finley

    I had the pleasure of seeing Nick and Val perform on a few occasions. This packed interview with Tavis is “real talk” – a wonderful testament of their passion, determination, love and success. The three were having a good ole time on the set!

  • kevin

    stay free is my favorite ashford and simpson song.

Last modified: August 31, 2011 at 2:29 pm