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Nick Ashford Remembered

Special to Washington Informer | , DC Livers | 9/2/2011, 3:44 p.m.

Hours after Hurricane Irene ripped through New York City causing devastating flooding and left millions in the dark without power, thousands gathered in the streets and filled a church with light to remember R&B singer/writer Nickolas Ashford, who died on Aug. 22 after losing his battle with throat cancer.

He was 70 years old. While Ashford was cremated a few days earlier and his body wasn't there, his spirit was alive as friend after friend and musician after musician held up the award-winning singer in song.

In lieu of a casket, three photos of the singer were placed on the church stage and provided a visual reminder of accomplishments of one of Motown Records' most success songwriters. Although she planned to remain silent during the star-studded memorial service, Valerie Simpson of Ashford & Simpson, was moved to jump up from her seat and head to the piano. Her emotional remarks about her husband since 1974 came as a surprise to many.

"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.

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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."

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