Jean Knight, ‘Mr. Big Stuff’ singer, dead at 80

The R&B singer was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1972 for "Mr. Big Stuff."

Jean Knight, whose funky 1971 hit “Mr. Big Stuff” rocketed to No. 2 on the Billboard charts and earned her a Grammy Award nomination, died Nov. 22. She was 80.

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Knight, a New Orleans native, died of natural causes in Tampa, Florida, where she was living with Emile Commedore, her son, NOLA.com reported.

“New Orleans and the music world mourns the loss of one of its most treasured musical daughters, Jean Knight,” her family said in a statement. “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.”

Bernie Cyrus, executive director of the Louisiana Music Commission and Knight’s longtime friend, also confirmed the singer’s death to Rolling Stone.

Knight topped Billboard’s R&B chart and was No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 with “Mr. Big Stuff.” The song’s infectious, dismissive refrain to a man’s overinflated ego, “Who do you think you are?” was sampled on more than 50 songs and used in commercials and films, according to WDSU-TV.

“Mr. Big Stuff” earned Knight a Grammy nomination for best female R&B vocal performance in 1972, USA Today reported.

Knight hit the R&B charts again in 1972 with “Carry On,” according to Deadline.

In the 1980s, Knight returned to national prominence with her song ‘You Got the Papers (But I Got the Man,” according to Rolling Stone. The song was released by Atlantic Records and led to more tours for the singer.

The tune was an “answer song” to Richard “Dimples” Fields’ song, “She’s Got Papers On Me,” according to NOLA.com.

Born Jean Caliste in New Orleans on Jan. 26, 1943, Knight recorded her first demo, a cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Stop Doggin’ Me Around,” in 1965, People reported.

In 1970 she traveled to Malaco Records’ studio in Jackson, Mississippi to record “Mr. Big Stuff,” NOLA.com reported. Wardell Quezergue handled the arrangement and Knight did the rest, with a funky, sassy anthem of female empowerment. Stax released the record and it went double platinum, selling more than 3 million copies, according to Rolling Stone.

The song would gain a life of its own through the years.

During the 1980s, “Mr. Big Stuff” was featured in a commercial for Oreo Big Stuff cookies, NOLA.com reported.

Rapper Heavy D sang his own version of the song in 1987, according to the website.

Groups that sampled Knight’s version included TLC’s song “Switch,” Everclear’s “AM Radio,” the Beastie Boys’ “Johnny Ryall” and John Legend’s “Who Do We Think We Are,” according to NOLA.com.

The single was featured in films and television shows like “Crooklyn,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “The Simpsons” and “The Deuce,” Deadline reported.

“‘Mr. Big Stuff’ is better to me now than 31 years ago,” Knight said in a 2002 interview, referencing her royalty checks. “All I have to do is sit at home and wait for the mailman.”

“’Mr. Big Stuff -- it was just so universal,” Cyrus told Rolling Stone. “People remember it. And look, so many people covered it.

“But nobody did it like Jean.”

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