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Missing Nick Ashford: The Real Thing

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Photo: Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Photo: Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Growing up, I remember buying Ashford & Simpson’s albums and thinking….”Divine Intervention brought these two beautiful souls together, and the rest of us get to reap the benefits.”  Such wonderful music, with such swagger and confidence in those chilling lyrics: “No other sound is quite the same as your name; no touch can do half as much. No wind, no rain, no winter’s cold can stop me.”  Goose Bump City.  Nick and Valerie’s songs held huge love and great determination. “Ain’t No Mountain,” “You’re All I Need To Get By,” “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” “Solid.”  Straight from the soul and onto the radio.

I remember buying one of their albums and carrying it around the house with me because I didn’t want to be away from it for too long at any time. When I first heard the song, “Is It Still Good To Ya” I actually gasped that human beings could create such majesty and passion and find a way to get it onto a vinyl disc. Powerful, powerful stuff.

Imagine my surprise and utter delight/amazement to begin working for a radio station in New York called WRKS (Kiss FM) and learning that the new line-up included Isaac Hayes in the Morning, and Ashford and Simpson in the Afternoon (Guess who was the “sweet cream filling” in between?”  lol.   I borrowed that line from Sade, by the way).

So, I started each work day with a bear hug from Chef (Isaac) and then when I got off work, I got to spend a few cherished moments each day in the studio with Valerie and Nick. And I can tell you, they were a joy. By the way–sidebar–there is nothing, and I mean nothing, like starting your day with a bear hug from Black Moses!

When my birthday rolled around, I walked into the studio and found a ginormous flower arrangement with all kinds of exotic treats within…from Nick and Val.  When I had a little showcase with my jazz trio, Nick and Valerie  (and Isaac) surprised me by showing up and sitting right in front to support.  I was floored by this kindness, and always will be. All three were right there, and I felt their strength flowing toward the stage, giving me my own.

Nick and Valerie had the best “All White” parties on the Fourth of July. Everybody came…there was Luther walking around the pool, there was Kashif and Thelma Houston sharing a meal on the transformed tennis court…there was Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards having a laugh with Nick and Val’s lovely daughter, Asia.  Their world was fantastical, glamorous, spirit-filled, and enormously joyful. And they opened their arms and invited you in with those amazing smiles of theirs, and their perfect grace. What a gift!

One day Valerie came into the studio and announced that Nick had a new “toy” we were all going to enjoy. That “toy” turned out to be Sugar Bar.  Many, many nights were spent in this hallowed establishment with its golden walls and African fetish artwork Nick had picked up on his travels. How he loved this place!  And so did the music industry. Astounding talent walked through those doors and hopped up on stage with Nick and Valerie for impromptu sets ranging from straight ahead jazz to funk to R & B to old school classics. The drinks and the cuisine–ultra special, just like the hosts. When I think of those golden days, my mind returns to the Sugar Bar and Nick’s happy face presiding over the scene, making utter magic happen night after night. Once you walked through the door, they owned you. And you wanted to be owned.

Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson and their two lovely daughters Asia and Nicole found their strength in togetherness. (As I wrote that sentence, their song “Been Found” echoes in my head.”) Their songs were about standing by each other “like a tree.”

Let’s stand together for a minute or two today, like a forest of trees, and say thank you to Nickolas Ashford for his legacy of powerful music that will sustain us for generations to come. There’s a certain kind of togetherness that cannot be undone. Ain’t  nothing like the real thing, baby. And Nick was it.

– Deborah Howell/94.7 The WAVE

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