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Mayor presents music legend Valerie Simpson with key to the city during St. Albans jazz festival

Jul. 18, 2023 By Bill Parry

Mayor Eric Adams presented music legend Valerie Simpson with a key to the city to kick off the 22nd annual St. Albans Jazz and Rhythm & Blues Festival on Sunday, July 16, at Archie Spigner Park.

The Bronx-born singer, songwriter and producer was honored for her 50 years of contributions to and influence on music history. Alongside her late husband Nickolas Ashford, who first met her at age 17 while she was singing at Harlem’s White Rock Baptist Church, the couple became world-famous as Ashford & Simpson in Berry Gordon’s Motown galaxy that included stars such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Jackson 5.

Simpson delivers remarks calling the award a true ‘wow’ moment. Photo by Caroline Rubinstein-Willis/Mayoral Photography Office

Together, Ashford & Simpson rose to national fame after writing Ray Charles’ ‘Let’s Go Get Stones” in 1964, which reached number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100. They went on to perform their own songs, such as “Solid” and “Found a Cure,” as well as collaborate with music legends Ben E. King, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Quincy Jones. The duo also wrote Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” as well as “I’m Every Woman” for Chaka Khan’s 1978 debut album, which was performed by Whitney Houston more than a decade later.

“For more than 50 years, Valerie Simpson has been the heart of R&B in New York City and the nation. Every note in her songs has been infused with the love and the soul of the city,” Adams said. “Valerie’s works have been performed by some of the most legendary artists of our time, but her songs will remain timeless. I am honored to present Valerie Simpson with a key to the city of New York, and I know that her music will be loved by generations to come.”

State Senator Leroy Comrie thanked the Black Spectrum Theatre for staging the festival. Photo by Caroline Rubinstein-Willis

Ashford & Simpson were nominated for three Grammy Awards and wrote 16 albums, four of which went gold. Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002, the duo received more than 50 awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), including the ASCAP’s Founder’s Award in 1996, the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 1999, and the Grammy Trustees Award in 2019. To the cheers of hundreds, Simpson was proud to add the Key to the City to her awards collection.

“I was born in the Bronx, and to receive a Key to the City from Mayor Adams at the St. Albans Jazz and Rhythm and Blues Festival was a true ‘wow’ moment,” Simpson said. “I could feel all the love from the community. This was a special moment for me and I’m humbled and appreciative of this honor.”

State Senator Leroy Comrie thanked the Black Spectrum Theatre for staging the event, and for giving the Southeast Queens community the opportunity to pay tribute to a cultural icon.

Valerie Simpson has created timeless classics that not only have reverberated in our hearts and minds for decades, but have also been reworked into songs for a whole new generation. Her vivid symphonies have been interpolated into new hits by artists ranging from Method Man and Mary J. Blige, to Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga. She is richly deserving of this honor for her talent and I commend and thank Valerie Simpson for sharing it with the world.”

For city history nerds, the key to the city was first awarded in 1702 by New York City Mayor Phillip French, when he offered “Freedom of the City” to Viscount Edwards Cornbury, the then-governor of New York and New Jersey. By the mid-1800s, it became customary to award the Key to the City of New York as a symbol of civic recognition and gratitude reserved for individuals whose service to the public and the common good rises to the highest level of achievement.

Last year, St. Albans favorite son LL Cool J received a Key to the City from Speaker Adrienne Adams and Councilwoman Lynn Schulman during his Rock The Bells Festival at Forest Hills Stadium. He returns to Forest Hills Stadium on Aug. 5, headlining a Rock The Bells celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip hop all-star lineup that includes Run DMC from Hollis, Salt-N-Pepa, which was formed in 1985 after Sandra Dayton and Cheryl James became friends while attending Queensborough Community College.

LL Cool J receives the Key to the City last summer from Speaker Adrienne Adams and Councilwoman Lynn Schulman during the Rock The Bells Festival at Forest Hill Stadium. Courtesy of the NYC Council

Rock The Bells 2023 will also feature Queen Latifah, De La Soul, and Method Man & Redman.

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