This week, we lost two musical giants, literally within a beat and a song between them. One was Jerry Leiber, who was part of the musical team of Leiber and Stoller. Jerry was the one who created lyrics to Stoller’s music, and their list of hits runs long.
The 78-year-old artist had more hits than I have listened too, I confess. But, he is the man behind one of my all-time, favorite songs, Stand by Me. The 1986 soulful version sung by Ben E. King is the ultimate anthem of loyalty, and love.
The other loss was Nicholas Ashford, half of the Ashford and Simpson team that rocked the charts with hits for artists like Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye.
Like Jerry, Nick was the poet of his team, the one who found just the right words to fit the right beats. For me, and millions of his other fans, the song that just sums up the Ashford & Simpson magic was the one they recorded, Solid As A Rock This is a grown-folks love song that tells you what it takes to keep a relationship going after the thrill of the chase is a memory.
When Jerry shared his background in interviews, he told his story of a Jewish kid who loved Black Music and grew up in a poor African American neighborhood in Baltimore.
Nick grew up in Michigan and grew up in the Black Church, with the power of gospel music as his inspiration. He found his way to Harlem where he met his future wife, Valerie, and together launched a successful career and marriage.
Jerry and Nick came from two different worlds but they shared a love of musical styles that came from the same alchemy of blues, rhythm and pop and African American traditions. Their hits made devotees out of listeners all over the globe, crossing boundaries with each ton 10 hit they created. Our debt to their combined talents is enormous.
Sometime soon, treat yourself. Listen to some of their hits with a glass of something sweet and hopefully immersed in even sweeter memories.
That’s what I’m doing tonight.