Years ago I’d see a good-looking black man, with long dark hair, jogging on the streets of town.
You don’t see a lot of black guys running in Westport. But what I always noticed about him was his presence. He wasn’t particularly fast, but he had grace and style.
One day I asked someone who he was.
“Ashford,” he said simply.
As in Ashford & Simpson.
Nick Ashford died yesterday in New York, of throat cancer. He was 70.
He and his wife, Valerie Simpson, bought a 7.5 acre property on the corner of Cross Highway and Bayberry Lane in 1974.
They sold it in 2007. Their impressive home became a tear-down — replaced by an even larger one.
According to Emily Hamilton Laux, who lived across the street, Ashford & Simpson used it primarily as a summer home.
Every 4th of July, there was a fantastic party. Limos deposited a who’s-who of the R&B world. Guests wore white linen — and bands like KC & the Sunshine Band performed.
“People would walk around the neighborhood,” Emily says. “We knew we couldn’t crash the party, but we’d listen to music better than anything you could hear in the best club anywhere.”
Ashford & Simpson were not active participants in Westport life — beyond jogging, eating out in local restaurants and going downtown — but those of us who knew they were here always included their names with pride.
“Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward live here,” we’d say. “And Harry Reasoner, and …” We’d add a few more names.
Then we’d say: “And Ashford & Simpson.”
They were our little connection to Motown. The duo wrote “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “You’re All I Need to Get By,” and “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand,” among many others.
As performers, their biggest hit was “Solid as a Rock,” in 1984.
Ashford & Simpson were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984.
Nick Ashford always seemed larger than Westport. He was in town, but not part of it.
Then I’d see him jogging, and I’d realize he was just another middle-aged guy who lived here and worked hard, trying to keep in shape.
Just a middle-aged guy who happened to write an important chunk of America’s impressive songbook.