'Elvis' actress Shonka Dukureh (44) found dead in her home
Actress and musician Shonka Dukureh was found unresponsive at her apartment in Nashville on Thursday. She was discovered by one of her children, the Nashville local law enforcement revealed.
Dukureh starred in the role of Big Mama Thornton in her first - and only - big movie role in the 2022 Baz Luhrmann biopic, ‘Elvis’. It was released less than a month ago in cinemas.
Photo: Warner Bros.
The Metro Nashville Police Department confirmed the blues singer’s death, stating that there was ‘no foul play’ evident in her passing. The cause of death will be evaluated by results of the autopsy.
They said in a tweet: "Dukureh, a Fisk Univ graduate, was found dead in the bedroom of her Kothe Way apt that she shared with her 2 young children."
The singer was 44 when she died. What happened that on that morning is unclear, but police revealed that it was the neighbor who dialed 911 at 9:27 am.
Photo: Twitter / @goftue
Dukureh was recording her first studio album when the unexpected happened. Described as "a tribute to the blues music genre in celebration of those fierce unsung pioneering artists and musicians who paved the way for the rock and roll music revolution," she titled the project, 'The Lady Sings the Blues. '
Being an artist was a secondary goal for Dukureh. She had initially planned to become a teacher, until her abilities and talents paved the way for the performance path she eventually took.
Dukureh graduated from Fisk University with a bachelor’s degree in theatre and has starred in many touring musicals, plays and concerts across the country.
Her most successful role before landing the blockbuster role in ‘Elvis’ was in 'American Duet,' by Marcus Hummon. She was nominated and won the 2003 Tennessean Theatre Award for Best Musical Direction or Performance as a Vocalist.
Shonka Dukureh always kept education close to her heart and pursued a masters degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University, according to her website. Little did she know then that she would land a major role in a blockbuster film in years to come.
Photo: The CW30
Her performances moved many, including her costar Olivia DeJonge, who portrays Priscilla Presley in the musical biopic. DeJonge described her costar to Entertainment weekly in June 2022, saying "a star was born" when Dukureh was cast. “It was just, it was insane to watch,” she continued, admiring the singer’s abilities.
Baz Luhrmann also thought the world of the artist. He said: "whenever she was on set, on stage or even just in the room, everyone always felt uplifted," in a tweet recognising the world’s loss of a great talent.
Photo: Instagram / @BazLuhrmann
The Mayor of Nashville also paid his respects to the singer, who had resided in Nashville for many years. She lived in an apartment with her two small children. The mayor insisted her life would live on through her music.
Photo: Twitter / @JohnCooper4Nash
Dukureh sang ‘Hound Dog’ for the film and the soundtrack - a song originally sung by Big Mama Thornton herself which was later made famous by Elvis Presley.
Photo: Warner Bros.
The actress also appeared in Doja Cat’s music video ‘Vegas’ from the movie’s soundtrack. She reprised the role of Big Mama Thornton.
Photo: Screenshot from music video 'Vegas' - Doja Cat
Doja Cat also paid tribute to the blues singer and actress, calling her "an incredible talent that was taken from us too soon."
Photo: Screenshot from music video 'Vegas' - Doja Cat / Instagram story @DojaCat