"I've got a lot to say about a great man," said Simpson. "He was my soul mate. He was the man of my life. I'm going to miss my honey. I know he's looking down on us. I know he's happy."
Pastor Calvin O. Butts, who presided over the memorial which was held in his Harlem's famed Abyssinian Baptist Church, said Simpson was one of the strongest people he ever met.
The service began with a solo by singer Roberta Flack, who greeted Simpson with a hug following the moving vocal of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Actresses Phylicia Rashad recited Maya Angelou's When Great Trees Fall.
"You and Nick showed so much love to people you didn't even know," actress Tichina Arnold (Everybody Hates Chris/Martin) told Simpson before singing a powerful rendition of "I'm Too Close" with singer Victor Cook.
Celebrities who attended: Susan Taylor; Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley; Alvin Ailey's Judith Jamison; actor Michael Douglas; Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Late Show with David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer.
Motown founder Berry Gordon, who did not attend the funeral service in Harlem, issued the following statement, calling Ashford an all-around beautiful human being.
"I am shocked and saddened to hear about the passing of Nickolas Ashford," said Gordy. "He, together with his wife Valerie Simpson, wrote and produced some of the most unique and memorable songs in the Motown catalog for some of Motown's biggest artists, such as Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's 'You're All I Need To Get By.' They were most responsible for the great hits of Diana Ross's solo career, including one of my favorites, 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough,' which became Diana's signature song. But more importantly to me, Nick Ashford was an all-around beautiful human being. Nick will always be a great part of the Motown family and legacy. I send my love and deepest sympathies to Val and his children. 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."
Detroit's Motown Museum also issued a statement this afternoon: "The Motown Museum wishes to express its profound shock and sadness upon learning of the passing of Motown Records alum Nicholas Ashford. He and his wife, Valerie Simpson, having joined the Motown family in 1966, established a legendary career as an accomplished vocalist and a prolific songwriter. For over eleven years, the songwriting team, known as Ashford & Simpson, wrote a string of hits most notably for Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. While his legacy as a musical pioneer will be a permanent fixture in the history of American Music, Ashford was also a devoted husband, father and well known philanthropist. Nicholas Ashford will be sorely missed. Our prayers and condolences are extended to Valerie, daughters, Nicole and Asia, family, friends, and fans worldwide."
Other celebrities who remembered Ashford included Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff of the famed group, Gamble & Huff, who issued the following statement: "Nick Ashford was truly one of our favorite songwriting colleagues and producers. He and Valerie Simpson had a major impact on Gamble & Huff's songwriting career, as Nick was responsible for producing a song we wrote, 'I'm Gonna Make You Love Me,' with Motown."Nick heard the song after we wrote it for Dee Dee Warwick and made it a major hit for Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations together. We also worked with Ashford & Simpson on 'Is It Still Good to You,' which they wrote for Teddy Pendergrass, and they did an excellent job. We're longtime admirers of Ashford & Simpson as one of the greatest songwriting teams ever. Nick was a multi-talented artist, and he will be truly, truly missed by both of us."
Ashford is survived by his wife Valerie and their two daughters, Nicole and Asia; three brothers, Paul, Albert and Frank; and his mother, Alice Ashford.
DC Livers is managing editor for the Historical Black Press Foundation. Livers has been published in or written about in over 200 media outlets including Editor & Publisher, Vibe Vixen, Wilmington Journal, Black Star News, and Tri-State Defender.