Legendary ‘Mr. Big Stuff’ Singer Dies, Cause of Death Remains Unknown

Jean Knight, whose irrepressibly funky and disdainful song Mr Big Stuff was a major hit in 1971, has died aged 80.

Farewell, Jean Knight

The confirmation of Jean Knight’s death at 80, in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Wednesday, was provided by the agency that represented her on Sunday. Knight was notably known for her hit “Mr. Big Stuff,” which was featured in the Stax Musem’s opening documentary.

Her singing journey began in her cousin’s bar, Laura’s Place, post-high school graduation.

Attention from multiple bands was drawn to her vocals.

Jean Knight pictured around 1970. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Knight was born Jean Caliste in New Orleans in 1943, and cut her first demo recording in 1965, a cover of Jackie Wilson’s Stop Doggin’ Me Around. She recorded a series of singles but her popularity initially didn’t reach further than her local area, and she offset music with work as a baker. But sessions with producer Wardell Quezergue in 1970 yielded Mr Big Stuff, which turned around her fortunes.

After covering Jackie Wilson’s “Stop Doggin’ Me Around” in 1965 for a demo, she signed a contract with Jet Star/Tribe record labels and adopted her stage name of Jean Knight, dropping her given surname Caliste.

Her musical career slowed by the late 1960s, and she worked as a baker before releasing “Mr. Big Stuff” under songwriter Ralph Williams.

A year later, Stax Records picked up the song, releasing it as an instant success.

The song reached number two on the pop charts and number one in R&B.

Knight’s song went platinum, and she was Grammy nominated for Best R&B Vocal Performance in the female category, narrowly losing to Aretha Franklin. She later signed to Soulin’ label in 1981, touring consistently by 1985, and still releasing hits like “You Got the Papers but I Got the Man” and a cover of “My Toot Toot.”

In 2003, Knight returned to her old label’s museum grand opening to perform her biggest hit, “Mr. Big Stuff,” on the PBS special “Soul Comes Home.”

Word of Knight’s death circulated on Wednesday with an obituary outlining her successful career.

It was not until Sunday that her former record label Stax confirmed the star’s death.

Her cause of death is currently unknown.

Fans have been taking to social media to mourn the musician.

“Wow RIP, her music was so fun; will be jamming out to her 1971 album tonight. A big loss,” shared one fan.

“My condolences to the family of Jean Knight, may she R.I.P.,” another wrote.

“Even when we were too young and had no business singing it! Thank you for the memories. May you rest easy Ms Knight,” remembered another fan fondly.

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