Jean Knight’s short career summary
Known for her huge hit single “Mr. Big Stuff,” Grammy-nominated soul and funk singer Jean Knight was a promising artist before internal strife within her label, Stax Records, prompted her to leave. After Stax, she recorded more songs under various small-time labels, but none of them gained the success like “Mr. Big Stuff” had. However, Knight continued to tour and perform in the Southern states and around the world as well. A Louisiana native, Knight was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame in 2007.
Early music career
Soul/R&B/funk singer Jean Knight was born Jean Caliste on January 26, 1943. The New Orleans, Louisiana native began her pursuit in music at her cousin’s bar “Laura’s Place” right after graduating high school. A lot of different bands, after hearing her sing, were willing to be a her musical backup.
In 1965 Knight made her first recorded song, a demo of her cover version of Jackie Wilson’s “Stop Doggin’ Mer Around.” That demo caught the attention of record producer Heuy Meaux, who got Knight signed to her first recording contract with Jet Star/Tribe labels. She recorded four singles, which gained her local popularity. However, she wasn’t able to attract any national attention, so she went to a day job as a baker Loyola University’s cafeteria.
Jean Knight’s biggest hit with “Mr. Big Stuff”
But Knight’s fortunes turned around as she was discovered by songwriter Ralph Williams, whose connections brought her to record producer Wardell Quezergue. Knight went to Malaco Studios in Jackson, Mississippi, for a recording session helmed by Quezergue in 1970. That is where Knight recorded a song called “Mr. Big Stuff,” written by Joseph “Joe” Broussard, Ralph Williams and Carrol Washington. The song was sent over to Stax Records, which passed it over. Other labels also rejected the song.
However, after Stax achieved successes such as “Groove Me” by King Floyd, the label took another consideration and finally decided to release “Mr. Big Stuff” as a single. When the song was released in 1971, it became an instant hit on both pop and R&B singles charts, at #2 and #1 respectively, spending a total of five weeks in those positions. The single sold over two million units and went platinum. “Mr. Big Stuff” was also nominated for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female, only to lose to Aretha Franklin’s version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” The album of the same name was released in that same year, which performed strongly on the charts.
However, Knight couldn’t sustain the success attained by “Mr. Big Stuff,” and only managed to score minor hits: “You Think You’re Hot Stuff” (#57 pop, #19 R&B) and “Carry On.” However, her producers’ spat with Stax caused her contract with the label to be terminated. Knight quickly faded from the scene after her fleeting brush with fame.
In 1981, Knight came back with a minor hit “You Got the Papers (But I Got the Man)” (#56 R&B). In 1985 she charted one of the more successful renditions of Rockin’ Sidney’s novelty hit “My Toot Toot.” It was also the titled track of Knight’s second LP, this time released on Mirage. Knight also made a return once again in the 1990s and in the new millennium. She released an album on Ichiban, Shaki De Boo-Tee (1997), andQueen (1999). In 2003 she performed her biggest hit “Mr. Big Stuff” on a television special Soul Comes Home. In recognition of Knight’s contributions the Louisiana music scene, she was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2007.