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'Mr. Big Stuff' singer Jean Knight has died at age 80

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Jean Knight, the soul singer best known for the song "Mr. Big Stuff," died last week at 80. NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas has this remembrance.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: New Orleans singer Jean Knight only scored one No. 1 hit on the Billboard soul singles chart, but what a hit it was.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MR. BIG STUFF")

JEAN KNIGHT: (Singing) Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are? Mr. Big Stuff, you're never going to get my love.

TSIOULCAS: 1971's "Mr. Big Stuff" was a funky, sweeping indictment of men who are too big for their britches. It was Jean Knight's first and only big hit for the Memphis powerhouse label Stax Records. And with the success of "Mr. Big Stuff," Jean Knight became Stax's top selling female artist. The single went double platinum and earned Knight a Grammy nomination. All this was a long way from her day job of working as a baker as she shopped herself around as a vocalist. Jean Knight never quite caught the charts or pop culture interests the same way after "Mr. Big Stuff," but the song endured. Hip-hop came to rediscover it through Heavy D's 1987 version.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MR. BIG STUFF")

HEAVY D: (Rapping) MCs around who front and frown. You go round for round. I go pound for pound. At the end of the party, when you're saying good night, don't come to me and say, take it light. I'm your Mr. Big Stuff.

TSIOULCAS: In the meantime, Jean Knight graduated from nursing school and worked as a nurse, but she continued recording and performing, and Louisiana's own music was always close to her heart. In 1985, she released a rollicking cover of Rockin' Sidney's zydeco song "My Toot Toot."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY TOOT TOOT")

KNIGHT: (Singing) Don't mess with my toot toot. Don't mess with my toot toot. I know you have another woman. So don't mess with my toot toot.

TSIOULCAS: Jean Knight was a frequent featured artist at the world-renowned New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Essence Music Festival and for many years served on the Louisiana Music Commission. Her family did not share the cause of her death.

Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MR. BIG STUFF")

KNIGHT: (Singing) I'd rather give my love to a poor guy that has a love that's true than to be fooled around and get hurt by you. 'Cause when I give my love, I want love in return. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.