The Musical Love Affair of Ashford & Simpson

A relationship "solid as a rock."

NO!!! Will and Jada Separating?! screamed the headlines on the entertainment website..

Maybe they are (Trey Smith, Will’s son from a previous relationship took to Twitter to deny the bust-up rumor) and maybe they aren’t.  It’s not as if that’s news that should shake the nation.  Wait…hold on…

Will and Jada split and the same day there’s an 5.8 earthquake on the East coast. Coincidence?

Couples get married, separated and divorced every day.  Because Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith are celebrities, we’re supposed to wring our hands and clutch ourselves in despair?

Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson were married for 38 years, wrote and performed hit songs, raised kids and kept their thing together.  Will and Jada Smith may be ending theirs after 13. Who should I be crying for?   Ashford passed away after a bout with throat cancer.   That’s a tragedy.   Smith and Pinkett-Smith possibly going their separate ways is fodder for entertainment sites, but it’s not a national emergency.

Consistency and stability are considered good things in an age when marriages are shredded and discarded like wet Kleenex..  Relationships like Ashford and Simpson look solid as a rock compared to couples whose lives come under scrutiny for rumors of open marriage and closeted homosexuality or whisper campaigns-they–might–or–might–not–be into Scientology and pushing their kids into stardom too fast, too soon.

Look, I got nothing against Will and Jada Smith or their obnoxiously talented kids.   I wish them well and hope they can work out their problems.  If not, I sure hope Big Willie had Little Jada sign an iron clad, air-tight prenuptial in blood or he’s going to be making Men in Black movies until he’s older than Tommy Lee Jones.

Instead of dwelling possibly failed relationships, I’m going to give a shout-out to one that seemed to succeed quite nicely.

Once you get past, “Solid” if you didn’t follow soul music you might know Ashford and Simpson as the dynamic duos they were, but as the songwriters of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Your Precious Love,” “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” their collaboration ensured their status as among the Best of Motown’s Best.

The pairing of the lanky Ashford and the diminutive Simpson was in every sense of the word a musical marriage and their partnership endured until Ashford lost his struggle with throat cancer.

Ashford passed away the same day as Jerry Leiber, one-half of the duo of  Lieber and (Mike) Stoller,  Leiber and Stoller’s hits include “Hound Dog,” “Love Potion #9,” “Jailhouse Rock” “Is That All There Is” and “Stand By Me.”  Between Ashford and Simpson and Lieber and Stoller, there’s enough gold records between them to pay off the national debt.

I always thought of Ashford as the weaker half of the duo because Valerie could sing his lanky ass off the stage and I saw her do it, but not every collaboration is a perfect match of equals.   Simon had a little more going for him than Garfunkel, Loggins outdid Messina and Sam kept going long after Dave checked out.

It’s not entirely fair to compare Will and Jada with Nickolas and Valerie because sometimes things just don’t work out and it’s sad when it doesn’t.   As a brother who’s a week away from his 30th anniversary and whose younger brother is days away from his 25th, I know it seems easier to bail than to stick with it.

Learning how to work with someone is one thing.  Going home with them after the end of the day and sleeping with them is quite another.  Hashing out and thrashing out the natural differences between two people has to be exacerbated when you’re argued the night before over whose turn it was to wash the dishes and now you’ve got to finish writing a song or shooting a scene together.

You know you’re doing something right when you’ve been performers for decades and there’s not even a whiff of scandal. sleaze or sensationalism.  From all appearances Ashford and Simpson were precisely what they appeared to be, a happy couple who performed in public, but kept their private lives out of the public’s eye.

Some celebrity couples learn how to make it work.  Some don’t.  It’s really not anymore complicated than that.  As far as examples to follow, Will and Jada could find worse ones to emulate than Ashford & Simpson.

As far as musical marriages go, this one worked as well as any.

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