Singer and songwriter Valerie Simpson, with her husband Nikolas Ashford, penned some of the most prolific love songs of a generation. First meeting in New York City in 1964 the two realized that their music and writing styles were similar so they began to collaborate on Simpson’s personal music as well as writing songs for other artists. Together they wrote songs for a variety of artists including Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. In 1966 they caught the attention of Berry Gordy who invited them to Motown. Auditioning a few of their songs they were offered positions as songwriters and producers.
Many Motown artists recorded their songs, but Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell recorded their most popular hits. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Your Precious Love,” and “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” were all written by Ashford and Simpson who often used their own budding relationship as inspiration for their songs. They would also write for Diana Ross and the Supremes including “Somethings You Never Get Used To” as well as “Reach Out
And Touch Somebody’s Hand” for Diana Ross when she pursued a solo career.
Inspired by the success and popularity of their music, Valerie Simpson decided to revive her own singing career after putting it on the shelf. She released two albums at Motown: Exposed (1971) and Valerie Simpson (1972). The albums were mild successes with the breakout single being “Silly Wasn’t I” from her 1971 album which topped out at #24 on the US R&B charts. Building upon their success as songwriters, Valerie and Nikolas wanted to branch out to create a career as a performing couple. In 1973 they left Motown, got married, and began working for Warner Bros as songwriters, performers, and producers.
The work of Valerie Simpson is nothing short of astonishing. With her husband, she has earned 22 gold and platinum records, 3 Grammy nominations and 50 awards from the American Society of Composers, Producers and Songwriters including the Founders Award (the highest achievement one can receive).
Valerie Simpson performing “Silly Wasn’t I”
Ashford and Simpson were initially rejected at Motown. But they were determined so they went back with new songs to audition including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”.
Ascap.com. 2010. Ashford & Simpson Honored By Whyhunger. [online] Available at: [https://www.ascap.com/playback/2010/08/Action/AshfordSimpson].
Grien, P., 2019. Ashford & Simpson Will Be the 11th Songwriting Team to Receive the Recording Academy’s Trustees Award | Billboard – Billboard. [online] Billboard.com. Available at: [https://www.billboard.com/music/awards/ashford-and-simpson-songwriting-teams-recording-academy-trustees-award-8510388/].
Letkemann, J., 2014. Maya Angelou in Music: Ashford & Simpson Collab, Calypso Album & More (Listen) | Billboard – Billboard. [online] Billboard.com. Available at: [https://www.billboard.com/music/music-news/maya-angelou-music-history-ashford-simpson-calypso-album-listen-6099398/].
New Jersey Performing Arts Center, 2021. Valerie Simpson: Music, Mentors, and Motown. Available at: [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay12lfULfCc].
Los Angeles Times. 2011. Nick Ashford of Ashford & Simpson songwriting team dies at 70. [online] Available at: [https://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-nick-ashford-20110824-story.html].
Ruhlmann, W., n.d. Ashford & Simpson Songs, Albums, Reviews, Bio & More | AllMusic. [online] AllMusic. Available at: [https://www.allmusic.com/artist/ashford-simpson-mn0000619423?1642526459514].
Grammy.com. n.d. TRUSTEE GRAMMY AWARD. [online] Available at: [https://www.grammy.com/awards/trustee-awards].
Ascap.com. 2012. Valerie Simpson Honors the Legacy of Nick Ashford. [online] Available at: [https://www.ascap.com/playback/2012/01/foundation/Reach_Out_and_Touch].
Songhall.org. n.d. Valerie Simpson | Songwriters Hall of Fame. [online] Available at: [https://www.songhall.org/profile/Valerie_Simpson].