Tuesday, August 23, 2011

R.I.P. Nick Ashford... Memories From The 1995 Billboard Radio Show

I met Motown superstar songwriters and recording artists Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford in 1995 as the newly minted Radio Editor at Billboard magazine in New York. When I planned my first Radio Awards Show at the Sheraton Hotel here, the couple was among the celebrity hosts for the then-massive ceremony, which drew around 1,000 radio programmers and personalities.

Unfortunately, RuPaul, who was then "manning" mornings at NY's WKTU, was also on the bill—and could not have been more of an uncooperative diva, demanding the largest private space we had to "prepare," all the while taunting that "she" may or may not feel like donning full drag—as if anyone would give him a second glance if he appeared as a dude.

The room Ru thought was most fitting was, of course, the one we had given the real talent of the evening: Valerie and Nick. When we explained the conundrum to them, they could not have been more accommodating, agreeing to wait in a much less private space. Total pros.

Of course, the lot of us rolled our eyes when RuPaul eventually appeared onstage with Simpson and Ashford and gushed about his life-long admiration for them. I suspect that while they smiled graciously, they too realized what an asswipe the drag queen is.

I know I'm veering off-topic here, but I can't resist: To add insult to injury, Ru had agreed to stay at the venue and take pictures with PDs, MDs, OMs and DJs—but vanished from the premises. We later found out that he pranced out of the Sheraton as soon as his stage duties were done—showing up at gay hustler bar Gaiety down the street in full drag.

At that point, I vowed I would never again mention RuPaul in my Radio section in Billboard. However, a year later, I broke my promise... When he was canned from morning duties at WKTU, how could I resist: "RuPaul Released From A.M. Shift: What A Drag."

Uh, so back to Nick Ashford. The talent died Monday from throat cancer, at age 69. Altogether, the couple, which had been married since 1974, recorded eight albums for Warner Bros., including four gold. With hits songs for the 5th Dimenson, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, Chaka Khan and many others, they were inducted into the Songwriting Hall of Fame in 2002. Their biggest solo hit was 1984's top 20 "Solid." R.I.P.