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Music

‘Mr. Big Stuff’ Singer Jean Knight Dies at 80

November 28, 2023

BATON ROUGE, La. — Jean Knight, a New Orleans-born soul singer known for her 1971 hit “Mr. Big Stuff,” has died at 80.

Family, friends, fans and veterans of the music world mourned the loss of the Grammy-nominated singer who was considered a musical powerhouse and an integral part of New Orleans’ cultural legacy.

Knight died Wednesday of natural causes in Tampa, Florida, where she was living, said family representative Mona Giamanco. She confirmed the death to The Associated Press on Monday afternoon.

“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 singer’s family said in a statement.

Knight got her start by singing in her cousin’s New Orleans bar shortly after graduating from high school. In the early ’70s she recorded “Mr. Big Stuff” — a sassy and soulful chart-topping anthem that became known for the infectious refrain of “Who do you think you are?”

The song reached No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B chart and No. 2 on the Billboard 200 pop chart, earning Knight a Grammy nomination for best female R&B vocal performance in 1972. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music said in a news release that Knight was Stax Records’ top-selling female artist.

Following the success of “Mr. Big Stuff,” Knight went on to record several more albums — including ones that featured songs “(Don’t Mess With) My Toot Toot” and “Bill” — and formed her own label, Comstar.

Reginald Toussaint was an engineer for one of Knight’s albums and even helped mix a song that his father — musical legend Allen Toussaint — wrote for it. Reginald Toussaint went on to become friends with Knight, whom he described as a “wonderful woman.”

“She was genuinely a nice person with a gentle spirit … whenever I saw her she was always smiling,” said Toussaint, the executive director of production for the New Orleans Jazz Fest and Essence Music Festival.

Knight spent years touring and performing locally, both on large festival stages and in more intimate French Quarter venues.

In addition to her soulful, sassy and joyful performances, among family and friends she was known as a mother and grandmother who loved cooking Creole dishes and celebrating Mardi Gras.

Information about her funeral arrangements was not immediately available.

 

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