Jean Knight obituary


Jean Knight, the American soul singer, who has died aged 80, could have been what the music business calls a “one-hit marvel”, however what a success it was. In 1971, 4 years after Aretha Franklin had turned Otis Redding’s music Respect into a requirement for feminine emancipation, Knight took a music known as Mr Large Stuff and used it to demolish male vanity and sexual entitlement.

When Knight carried out the music on the favored US tv present Soul Practice, in a maroon velvet trouser swimsuit and an enormous bouffant wig, she did so with a proud, derisive smile. She additionally had the help of an irresistibly funky rhythm monitor, spiced by interjections from a perky trumpet-led horn part. The document flew to No 1 on the R&B chart within the US, after which to No 2 on the pop charts, promoting two million copies, and was denied the highest spot solely by the Bee Gees’ How Can You Mend a Damaged Coronary heart.

Mr Large Stuff was launched after an preliminary rejection from the label that ultimately profited from its success. It was certainly one of 4 tracks on a tape initially despatched by Malaco Studios in Jackson, Mississippi, to the places of work of Stax Information in Memphis, Tennessee, the house of Redding, Carla Thomas and Sam and Dave. When Don Davis, Stax’s head of A&R, confirmed no curiosity, Malaco launched one of many tracks, King Floyd’s Groove Me, on their very own small label, and noticed it high the R&B chart and make the nationwide High 10.

That success prompted a reconsideration at Stax, the place Tim Whitsett, the top of the corporate’s publishing firm, listened once more and picked out Mr Large Stuff. When Al Bell, the corporate’s president, heard it being performed by way of an workplace wall, he sanctioned its acquisition and launch, with such success that the document earned Knight a platinum disc and a Grammy nomination for finest feminine R&B efficiency.

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Jean Knight within the early 70s. Mr Large Stuff earned her a Grammy nomination for finest feminine R&B efficiency. {Photograph}: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Photographs

Knight was unknown exterior the tight-knit music neighborhood of her native New Orleans in Louisiana, having just about given up on her hopes of knowledgeable singing profession after performing in golf equipment and recording with out success for small native labels. When a buddy, Ralph Williams, requested her to sing on a tough demo of a music he had written with Carrol Washington and Joseph Broussard, her recommendations for enhancements have been cheerfully integrated. That was Mr Large Stuff, and shortly a famend native producer, Wardell Quezergue, was inviting her to journey with him to Malaco’s studio to document it correctly.

Quezergue devised the association for the studio’s common rhythm part and horn gamers, utilizing typical New Orleans syncopations and taking part in the distinctive organ half himself. With Floyd taking up the microphone, they recorded Groove Me on the identical day.

Knight was born Jean Caliste in New Orleans. Her dad and mom, Florence (nee Edwards) and Louis Caliste, had sung as a duo within the metropolis’s golf equipment and theatres, and her father additionally stored a retailer. One in all eight youngsters, she was educated at Joseph S Clark Sr highschool, opened in 1947 to coach Black youngsters within the Tremé district. After graduating she launched into her singing profession, adopting her skilled title and infrequently showing at Laura’s Bar, a membership run by certainly one of her sisters.

By the point she made Mr Large Stuff she had been married twice, first as a teen, to Thomas Commodore, with whom she had a son, Emile, after which in 1965 to Earl Harris, a longshoreman who grew to become her tour supervisor after she had turn into a nationwide determine. Each marriages resulted in divorce.

Mr Large Stuff proved to be her solely hit. The follow-up, You Suppose You’re Sizzling Stuff (1971), was too clearly a retread and lacked freshness. After learning to turn into a nurse, she labored in healthcare for 15 years however returned briefly to the US charts in 1985, reaching No 50 with a single within the zydeco fashion, the suggestive My Toot Toot, written by the Cajun singer Rockin’ Sidney Simien.

In 2005 her New Orleans home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. She lived for a number of months in a caravan supplied by the Federal Emergency Administration Company and later made her house in Tampa, Florida.

Inducted into the Louisiana Music Corridor of Fame in 2006, she continued to carry out, and on the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage competition in 2016 she advised her viewers that the royalties from Mr Large Stuff, usually utilized in movie and TV soundtracks and often sampled by rappers, had supplied her with an everyday move of cheques by way of the years. “All I’ve to do is sit house and look forward to the mailman,” she mentioned.

She is survived by her son, 4 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


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