Soul diva JEAN KNIGHT died on Wednesday, November 22nd. The news was announced this weekend by her longtime friend Bernie Cyrus. Ms Knight was aged 80 and no further details were given, though some sources suggest cause of death was “natural causes”. Jean Knight, of course, will always be remembered for her 1971 Stax hit ‘Mr Big Stuff’ though soul collectors will know she offered just a little more!
Jean was born Jean Caliste in New Orleans in 1943 and after leaving school she began singing in local bars. In 1965 she was signed to Huey Meaux’s Jet Star/Tribe set up where she changed her name to “Jean Knight”. After four unsuccessful singles Ms Knight decided to quit music – taking herself off to work in a New Orleans bakery!
In 1970 songwriter Ralph Williams struck up a relationship with her and soon the duo headed off to the Malaco studios where they recorded the iconic ‘Mr Big Stuff’. Williams and Knight touted the disc to various labels for release with little joy. However after the Stax success of King Floyd’s ‘Groove Me’ (another Malaco recording), the famous Memphis label licensed ‘Mr Big Stuff’ for release. It was an instant smash – a no. 1 R&B hit and a no. 2 pop hit! It was also nominated for a Grammy – just missing out to Aretha’s version of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. Lesser hits followed and then that familiar tale of fallings out and label disagreements; thus Jean Knight left Stax.
She went on to work for various labels eventually pitching up at Isaac Bolden’s Soulin’ label where she recorded an answer song to Dimples Fields’ ‘She Got The Papers On Me’. Knight’s ‘’You Got the Papers But I Got the Man, when leased to Atlantic, gave her another big hit. Her other big hit from this period was her cover of the old zydeco song. ‘My Toot Toot’. Jean’s version of the song was a big US hit, though in the UK the song is best known in its Densie Lasalle iteration.
After the hits dried up, Ms Knight played the oldies circuit and her last major recording was in 2007, when she issued ‘Do Me’ from the ‘Superbad’ soundtrack. In later years she was a well known figures within the New Orleans music community.