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Valerie Simpson closes busy year with Queens College concert

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Valerie Simpson will close out the year in style with Valerie Simpson: Performing The Music Of Ashford And Simpson, at Queens College’s LeFrak Concert Hall at Kupferberg Center for the Arts on Dec. 14.

Just as she started it out back in February at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series installment at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room, she’ll mine one of the richest catalogs in pop music with Ashford & Simpson classics like “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” as well as tunes from her A&S-penned and produced solo album Dinosaurs Are Coming Back Again.

And Simpson, who has performed at a number of special events during the interim, looks to add a couple other requested songs to the repertoire following her appearance earlier this week at a benefit for Glenn Close’s Bring Change 2 Mind campaign, which is aimed at removing misconceptions and the stigma relating to mental illness.

“It was a really nice event—though nerve-wracking!” says Simpson, who was joined on stage by Kinky Boots’ Billy Porter, Joshua Bell and Ryan Shaw in a Let’s Make A Deal auction bit.

“They set us up behind doors, and people could bid on us, before anyone knew who was behind the doors!” she explains. “But they gave clues, so if anyone had any knowledge about music, they’d figure it out.”

Simpson performed the Ashford & Simpson standard “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” at the piano, and was inspired by the people in the audience who called out requests.

“It was nice to bounce it back,” she says, "even if all you can do is make a fool of yourself!”

Simpson also joined “Door #4” star Paul Simon on “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.”

“I sang on that session with Phoebe Snow,” says Simpson of the big Simon solo hit from 1976. “Paul said it was the first time he sang it with the lady who was on the record! Then the whole ensemble did ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’”

Other highlights of Simpson’s year included her (and late husband Nick Ashford’s) citation at June’s New York Chapter Recording Academy Honors 2013 event, which also honored Joshua Bell, Melissa Etheridge, Trey Songz and Les Misérables creators Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer and Claude-Michel Schönberg. In July she appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman, prompting the host to observe, “and not a minute too soon”--in regard to the statement inherent in Dinosaurs Are Coming Back Again.

But Simpson is now looking ahead to rehearsals for Dec. 14, having just returned from another special event, the annual benefit for San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Church’s community outreach programs. Also attending, incidentally, was her friend Dr. Maya Angelou; in 1996, Ashford & Simpson put to music Angelou’s poetry in the joint album Been Found.

“We just finished a song together from a poem she wrote that she asked me to put music too, ‘Take Time Out,’” says Simpson. “We premiered it last week in front of her Thanksgiving crowd in North Carolina.”

Clearly, Simpson’s “running like crazy,” she concludes. “There’s really no point in unpacking!”

[The Examiner has written liner notes on Ashford & Simpson CD and DVD sets.]

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