Renowned for her boldly funky and dismissive anthem “Mr Big Stuff,” Jean Knight has passed away at the age of 80 from natural causes, as confirmed by her publicist and Bernie Cyrus, the executive director of the Louisiana Music Commission, who shared the news with Rolling Stone.
Born Jean Caliste in New Orleans in 1943, Knight embarked on her musical journey by recording her first demo in 1965, a rendition of Jackie Wilson’s “Stop Doggin’ Me Around.” Despite initially limited popularity in her local area and balancing her musical pursuits with a career as a baker, her fortunes took a turn when she collaborated with producer Wardell Quezergue in 1970. This collaboration resulted in the creation of “Mr Big Stuff,” a song where Knight, audibly unimpressed by a flashy charmer’s materialistic displays, admonishes him for his callous treatment of other women.
Although the song was initially rejected by several labels, it eventually gained recognition after the success of “Groove Me,” recorded by King Floyd on the same day in the same studio. “Mr Big Stuff” soared to the top of the US R&B chart, secured the second spot on the pop chart, and achieved double platinum status. It earned Knight a nomination for the best female R&B vocal performance at the 1972 Grammy Awards.
However, disputes between Quezergue and Stax led to Knight being dropped the following year, and she never quite replicated the success of “Mr Big Stuff.” Despite this, she remained active in the music industry, releasing music until 1999. In 1985, she had a minor hit with “My Toot Toot,” reaching No. 50 on the US charts.
The enduring popularity of “Mr Big Stuff” persisted through its use in various soundtracks and advertisements. The song even became a reggae standard under the title “Sister Big Stuff” and was sampled by artists such as John Legend and Eazy-E. Reflecting on the song’s royalties in 2002, Knight remarked, “Mr Big Stuff is better to me now than 31 years ago. All I have to do is sit at home and wait for the mailman.” Additionally, her song “Do Me” gained renewed popularity on streaming services, aided by its inclusion in the soundtrack to “Superbad.”