Jerome Leiber was born on April 25, 1933, in Baltimore, where his parents, Jewish immigrants from Poland, ran a general store. When Jerry was 5, his father died and his mother tried, with little success, to run a small store in one of the city’s worst slums. When he was 12, she took him to Los Angeles.
It was while attending Fairfax High in Los Angeles and working in Norty’s Record Shop that he met Leonard Sill, a promoter for Modern Records, and confessed that he wanted to be a songwriter. After Sill urged him to find a pianist who could help him put his ideas onto sheet music he met Mr. Stoller through a friend, and the two began writing together
“Often I would have a start, two or four lines,” Mr. Leiber told Robert Palmer, the author of “Baby, That Was Rock & Roll: The Legendary Leiber and Stoller” (1978). “Mike would sit at the piano and start to jam, just playing, fooling around, and I’d throw out a line. He’d accommodate the line — metrically, rhythmically.”
Nickolas Ashford was born in Fairfield, S.C., and raised in Willow Run, Mich., where his father, Calvin, was a construction worker. He got his musical start at Willow Run Baptist Church, singing and writing songs for the gospel choir. He briefly attended Eastern Michigan University, in Ypsilanti, before heading to New York, where he tried but failed to find success as a dancer.
In 1964, while homeless, Mr. Ashford went to White Rock Baptist Church in Harlem, where he met Ms. Simpson, a 17-year-old recent high school graduate who was studying music. They began writing songs together, selling the first bunch for $64. In 1966, after Ray Charles sang “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” a song Ashford & Simpson wrote with Joey Armstead, the duo signed on with Motown as staff writers and producers.
They wrote for virtually every major act on the label, including Gladys Knight and the Pips (“Didn’t You Know You’d Have to Cry Sometime”) and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (“Who’s Gonna Take the Blame”).
While writing for Motown, Ashford & Simpson nursed a desire to perform, which Berry Gordy Jr., the founder and patriarch of the label, discouraged. They left the label in 1973 and married in 1974.
God bless the creators.