Remembering Nick Ashford

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.

Nick Ashford

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.

22 responses to “Remembering Nick Ashford

  1. Saw him in Barnes & Noble some years ago. What an aura of confidence and grace.

  2. Jim Honeycutt

    It has been a difficult few days for song lovers. Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber all within 24-hours. Such great tunes these guys wrote… We are lucky to be able to carry these songs through our days.

  3. I saw him in Geiger’s many years ago. He was shopping for flowers, as was my wife. I was tempted to go up to him and tell him that “You’re All I Need to Get By” is among my all-time favorite songs–and what a beautiful song it is–but I decided to hang back and let him have his privacy. (After all, I certainly was in no position to give him any advice about the flowers he was looking at.). And I wonder: do stars such as Ashford appreciate hearing praise from a fan in that situation, or do they prefer their privacy so they can get their chores done in timely fashion?

  4. Several years ago I was at Hayday, a now defunct market in Westport, when I noticed Nick examining fruit in the same meticulous the way he probably chose a word or note for one of his musical masterpieces. I’d never seen anyone so intently examine, an apple or apricot. He turned them over in his hands, held them up to the light and went through a dozen before choosing a single prize for the bag he was holding. He was selecting them as if they were jewels for a lover.

    We knew each other, and after exchanging pleasantries with him for a moment or two I went back to my shopping just in time to hear the store manager tell one of the college kids working for her to “keep en eye on that scraggly looking black person hanging around the fruit and make sure he does not steal anything”. It was the very worst of Westport, and showed underlying issues that still exist this town of minimal diversity.

    She’d taken one of the most sensitive moments I’d ever had shopping and turned it ugly.

    I found it unacceptable and ,before the obviously uncomfortable young worker went about his ugly task, quietly told her that what she was doing was insensitive and unnecessary, and potentially embarrassing for all involved; that the man involved was a friend of mine. How sad that because I was white she took my admonition over naturally showing respect to this world famous genius. She was not apologetic, but said “well he looked suspicious”.

    When I finished and had checked out Nick was still at the fruit, enjoying the solitude, distance and respect he deserved, I hope unaware of what had occurred. He waved good bye to me with that incredible smile of his flashing from ear to ear….and that’s the way I will always remember him…smiling, happy and above the noise of the world.

  5. My friend Ray Flanagan lived across the street from Nick and has the best stories about him. Ray introduced me to him one day, Great guy! I was very lucky to have met him.

  6. I remember a great concert that they did for the Levitt Pavillion one year during which they acknowledged individual Westporters in the audience. They said it was fun to be performing here in town among friends and that this was the first concert they’d ever done when they’d had been able to get dressed in their own bedroom. I start singing as soon as I hear their songs.

  7. When I rented out my house in summer of 90’s, I stayed across the street from Ashford and Simpson on Bayberry @ Cross (where the massive house is now). Every year they would have a grand July 4th party and invite all the neighbors including me. Very friendly. Nicest people you would ever want to meet. At that time, they were hardly distant from mainstream Westport. I am saddened by the news.

  8. RIP Mr. Ashford and thank you for the wonderful music.

    Now could someone explain this sentence to me:
    “Ashford & Simpson were not active participants in Westport life — beyond jogging, eating out in local restaurants and going downtown.”

    What is required to be an “active participant in Westport life?” Please let me know. Shit, I don’t even jog.

  9. Welp they used to perform at the Levitt for fund raisers as well as their parties so while maybe not the Newmans, they were pretty active. Ashford used to drive around a Bentley about town. Cool dude. Bet the cops took a second look though at a brother driving that car in lily white nirvana Westport.

    • Yes, the cops took a second look at Ashford. They kept an eye on him and his property to keep him safe and to protect him from crazies.

      • Well said. All these accusations (this one as well as other posts from previous blogs) about the Westport Police being racist are very rude and uncalled for. I am friends with many of these policemen; I went to high school with many of them. They are not racists. Go on a ride along, see what actually goes on. Disclaimer: My husband is a police officer in Bridgeport, but was an officer in Westport years ago. Please do not assume to know what the policemen are subjected to on a daily basis. Please do not assume to know their practices. Please do not judge them unfairly. When there is danger, they run to it. They solve burglaries, they have to give death notifications, they went to Ground Zero when 9-11 occurred, they work tirelessly, they have to go to these awful crime scenes, traffic accidents, and are there to serve you. They work nights, weekends, and holidays. If we get a hurricane Sunday, do you think they will be home all warm and dry? No, they will be reporting to calls and on the street. When we had all those blizzards in February, do you think they were home sipping hot cocoa with their families? No, they were on the streets. They are called names and treated horrifically. And, for all that I’ve mentioned and more, they are unfairly called racists by the very people of this town they protect and serve. Shame, shame, shame.

        • And who has to leave their homes on Christmas Eve to investigate a suicide where someone blows their brains across the room? Thank you, Judi, for sharing the other side of the story.

        • The Dude Abides

          Reality check here. No one called Westport cops racists. A Black dude driving a Bentley or Mercedes in this town does, however, bring attention. Plain and simple. If not Ashford, I can introduce you to a Black gentleman who is “active” in the commmunity that has been pulled over several times in his Mercedes for nothing. And if you are out at midnight, check who they are stopping on the Post Road. It is called driving while poor (DWP) because any crappy car is pulled over and checked. I admire the work the police do but don’t tell me they don’t profile. They investigate anything that is unusual including the graves behind Willowbrook cemetery nearly every afternoon. They are also paid very well, comparatively, for the work they do.

          • Herb Kemp could tell you some stories about driving around Westport as an African-American.

          • Dude, if someone were driving around your neighborhood in a crappy car at midnight, do you want it checked?

            • The Dude Abides

              I am not a racist and have dealt with the police for decades while
              practicing law. They are fine upstanding people. But to say they
              are not human, is nonsensical. Of course, they check out the unusual
              to not only protect the public but also themselves. In Westport, that
              is people of color and non-affluence. I personally check out crappy cars on our street before calling anyone.

  10. Richard Lawrence Stein

    I understand the sentiment of discord when describing Ashford and Simpson as “not Westport.” I think what was meant if I could be so bold, is this was there retreat and what a great retreat it is and was, their residence has been NYC. Just like Neal Sedaka, had a weekend place here and was kind to town, but he too was NYC. I hope that might clear things up… If I’m wrong that’s cool too, either way sad day in music all around

  11. I’ve been in Westport a long time, possibly with my head in the ground at Compo Beach, but i’m always learning something new about this town. Thank you for 06880, for fascinating information and for news, even when it’s sad.

  12. westporter95

    RIP Nick. A huge talent and a tremendous human being who was looked up to by all in the music community.

  13. His passing must be so sad for his wife. I did not know them at all, but whenever seeing them together in NYC or WSPT, they always leave the impression of “as beautiful on the inside as on the outside”.

  14. As I was about to leave a comment The Dude beat me to it. I know exactly of whom he is speaking and have been honored to have called him a friend for a number of years.

    The Dude is correct in stating that the WPD is hardly racist, but I do believe they (as well as the police in neighboring towns) profile drivers.