Two American Songwriting Giants Die

Motown's Nick Ashford and early rock songwriter Jerry Leiber pass away

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Two American songwriting giants died on Monday, marking a moment for fans to remember their music and legacy. At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California, Jerry Leiber died of an unexpected cardiopulmonary failure at the age of 78 and in New York, Nick Ashford died of throat cancer at the age of 69. Leiber and his longtime writing partner Mike Stoller wrote seminal early rock hits such as "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," and "Yakity Yak." As Jacob Adelman at the Associated Press notes, "With Leiber as lyricist and Stoller as composer, the team channeled their blues and jazz backgrounds into pop songs performed by such artists as Elvis Presley, Dion and the Belmonts, the Coasters, the Drifters and Ben E. King in a way that would help create a joyous new musical style." They became known as one of the most successful pop music writing pairs for Big Mama Thornton's 1953 cover of "Hound Dog" and Peggy Lee's version of "Is That All There Is" in 1969.

Ashford and his wife Valerie Simpson were both songwriters and performers famous for their contributions to the Motown label. Together they wrote the lion's share of hits for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, including "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need to Get By," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," and "Your Precious Love." As Steve Jones at USA Today writes, "Ray Charles' 1966 No. 1 R&B hit Let's Go Get Stoned was their breakthrough record. They would later write and produce Diana Ross's biggest solo hits, including her signature Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand). They also wrote Chaka Khan's I'm Every Woman, which was later recorded by Whitney Houston."

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