It is with deep sadness that I must tell you today that the great Tee Alston has passed away less than a month before her 83rd birthday.
We called her Tee, but her real name was Altomese, and she was the Major Domo of the world of Ashford & Simpson for over 50 years. She was the best friend of Nik and Val, their consort, cohort, organizer, family member, Grand Poobah of the Sugar Bar on West 72nd St. and before that the 20/20 club.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I had Tee’s phone number memorized for all these years. If I asked everyone in New York or the music world to raise their hands if they had that number, the whole place would rise. Everyone loved her, and the love went back and forth. She was one of those people who glowed from within.
I asked Valerie Simpson today– she’s in shock, by the way– how she met Tee. “It was before there was a Nik and Val,” she told me. “I was playing piano for a gospel group in Harlem. Tee and her friends were walking by and they stopped in because they heard the music. I told her she had great shoes. And that was it.” Best friends forever.
Tee apparently passed in her sleep, she was otherwise perfectly fine. The Sugar Bar has been closed because of the pandemic, but she’d been taking care of herself and quarantining.
We all had a long running inside joke with Tee. She loved Sam Moore, had a had mad crush on him. She’d always say to me, batting her big brown eyes, “How’s that Sam?” and give me a wink. Then we’d hug.
Tee has a daughter, Sharon, to whom we send condolences. But also to Val and her daughters Asia and Nicole, to everyone at the Sugar Bar, to everyone who loves Ashford & Simpson. To Nik in heaven, who greeted Tee with open arms. I know they are having a good time but we wish they were here.
Tee maybe best exemplified Ashford & Simpson songs herself. She was “Sold as a rock.” She was “the real thing” from “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” and she was all everybody needed to get by. This picture above was from Val’s birthday party one year ago on a boat we sailed around New York at midnight. And Tee — look at the smile — was always getting the cakes, putting it all together. My friend, bless you. You will not be forgotten.
Tee uploaded one video to YouTube (she wasn’t really a computer person). I’m including it here, of all Ashford & Simpson’s performances.
Pictures courtesy of Valerie Simpson c2020