Jean Knight, the R&B singer best known for her 1971 hit “Mr. Big Stuff” died at 80 on Wednesday (Nov. 22). “New Orleans and the music world mourns the loss of one its most treasure musical daughters, Jean Knight,” her family said in a statement shared with USA Today.
Rolling Stone also confirmed the singer’s passing with longtime friend Bernie Cyrus — who was the executive director of the Louisiana Music Commission for decades — who said,
“She was always willing to get involved with good causes and help out.”
Cyrus said the bouncy soul-stirring song was “just so universal. People remember it. And look, so many people covered it. But nobody did it like Jean.”
Surrounded by music in her hometown of New Orleans, Knight — who was born Jean Caliste on Jan. 26, 1943 — began singing around town after graduating from high school and recorded her first single, a cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Stop Doggin’ Me Around” in 1965, which got her a recording contract with the Jet Star/Tribe record label.
Her climb to fame began when she met producer Wardell Quezerque; he took her to Jackson, Miss., where she recorded “Mr. Big Stuff,” which became her first single and the title track from her debut studio album on Stax Records.
The song earned a Grammy nomination for best female R&B vocal performance, and in July 1971, it reached the top of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, where it remained for five weeks; the song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following month. The album itself reached a high of No. 60 on the Billboard 200 in September 1971.
“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,” the family’s statement to USA Today noted. “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.”