Jean Knight, ‘Mr Big Stuff’ singer, dies aged 80

New Orleans singer was nominated for a Grammy for her 1971 hit

Kevin E G Perry
Monday 27 November 2023 19:51 GMT
Jean Knight pictured in New Orleans on 30 April 2012.
Jean Knight pictured in New Orleans on 30 April 2012. (Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

Funk and soul singer Jean Knight has died aged 80.

In a statement, her publicist confirmed that she passed away of natural causes last Wednesday, 22 November.

Knight’s biggest hit was 1971’s “My Big Stuff”, which reached number two on the US charts, went double platinum and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1972 for best female R&B vocal performance.

She was born Jean Caliste in New Orleans in 1943 and made her first demo recording in 1965, a cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Stop Doggin’ Me Around”. The demo caught the attention of record producer Huey Meaux, who signed her to the Jet Star/Tribe record labels.

Soon afterwards she adopted the professional name Jean Knight as she felt that her surname Caliste was too hard to pronounce. In her early years, she supported her music career by working as a baker.

“Mr Big Stuff”, which was produced by Wardell Quezergue and released by Stax Records, has been sampled by a range of artists including Beastie Boys, John Legend and Eazy-E. It has also become a fixture of film and television soundtracks, appearing in shows like Minx, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and Black-ish.

After leaving Stax, Knight formed her own label, Comstar. Her other hits include 1972’s “Do Me”, which was featured on the soundtrack of the 2007 hit comedy Superbad, and 1985’s “(Don’t Mess With) My Toot Toot”.

Jean Knight performing at Tipitina’s in New Orleans in 2012. (Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

Knight’s family said in a statement: “‘Mr. Big Stuff’, which became famous for the infectious refrain, ‘Who do you think you are?’, wasn’t just a chart-topping anthem; it was the product of soulful, syncopated melodies that echoed through the Cresent City.

“Jean’s powerhouse performances at the Essence Music Festival and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival were legendary, with every note reflecting her sassiness and joyous spirit.”

The statement concluded: “Jean Knight’s legacy is not just a musical one; it is a testament to the enduring love between an artist, her hometown, and the fans who adored her. As we bid farewell to this iconic soulstress, New Orleans and her global fan base join together in gratitude for the indelible mark she left on the world.

“The family of Jean Knight kindly requests privacy during this difficult time and expresses heartfelt gratitude for the love and support from fans."

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in