Jean Knight, ‘Mr. Big Stuff’ Singer, Dead at 80

Jean Knight, whose 1971 smash hit “Mr. Big Stuff” spent five weeks at Number One on the R&B charts and hit Number Two on the Pop charts, has died at the age of 80, her longtime friend Bernie Cyrus confirmed to Rolling Stone.

“She was the first person we appointed on the board when we took took it over and we had a long relationship with her and she was just fabulous,” Bernie Cyrus, who served as the executive director of the Louisiana Music Commission for two decades, says. “She was always willing to get involved with good causes and help out.”

“’Mr. Big Stuff’ — it was just so universal. People remember it. And look, so many people covered it. But nobody did it like Jean,” Cyrus adds.

Born in New Orleans, Knight began singing publicly after she graduated from high school. Her appearances caught the attention of bands around town who then backed her live. In 1965, she cut her first song, a demo of Jackie Wilson’s “Stop Doggin’ Me Around,” which led to a recording contract with Jet Star/Tribe record labels. She continued to record and build her reputation on a local level.

In 1970, she got her big break when she began working with record producer Wardell Quezergue. She was working as a baker when the two culled “Mr. Big Stuff” in Malaco Studios in Jackson, Mississippi. The sassy funk hit released on Stax Records, which calls out male conceitedness with its “who do you think you are?” refrain, was a blockbuster hit on the charts and became one of the largest-selling singles released by the legendary label. It went double-platinum and also garnered a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female. In all, it sold more than three million copies, according to the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. The song appeared on the album of the same name.

After leaving Stax, Knight continued to pursue her musical career, recording tracks for several labels, though none rivaled the massive success with “Mr. Big Stuff.” A decade later, she gained national attention again when she worked with producer Isaac Bolden and his Soulin’ label on “You Got the Papers (But I Got the Man),” which was nationally released by Atlantic Records, and led to more touring for the singer.


Her cover of Rockin’ Sydney’s zydeco hit “My Toot Toot” in 1985, which was the title track of her third studio album, further bolstered her renown and she was tapped to perform on Solid Gold, and appeared on PBS special Soul Comes Home in 2003, where she performed “Mr. Big Stuff.”

In 2007, Knight’s song “Do Me” appeared on the Superbad soundtrack, the same year she was inducted into the Louisiana Music Commission Hall of Fame.