The Metro Nashville Police Department shared an update via Twitter. “No foul play is evident in today’s death of actress Shonka Dukureh, 44, who portrayed Big Mama Thornton in this year’s Elvis movie. 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 update confirmed.
No cause of death has been determined yet.
Dukureh was found unresponsive in her bed by one of her children, who then alerted a neighbor, according to Fox News. The neighbor called 911 shortly before 9:30 a.m.
Dukureh had a theater degree from Fisk and graduated from Trevecca Nazarene with an education degree, the publication reported. She was a staple of Nashville churches, lending her singing voice to the congregations since she was a young girl.
She was a self-taught singer, opening for Jamie Liddell and the Royal Pharaohs, and worked with artists including Nick Cave, Mike Farris, Pete Rock, and Smoke Dza, according Rolling Stone. The singer had recently performed with Doja Cat in Coachella.
The “Elvis” actress had also worked as a second-grade teacher and devoted time to helping inner-city children through after school programs.
“My deepest condolences to the family of Shonka Dukureh. Shonka graduated from @Fisk1866 and called Nashville home for many years,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper (D) tweeted. “Her powerful voice and artistry will live on through her music, and we honor her memory on this sad day.”
Fans were devastated by the news, sharing their condolences on social media and recalling Dukureh’s powerful rendition of the Elvis Presley classic “Hound Dog” in the film.
“A special light went out today and all of the Elvis movie family are heartbroken by the loss of Shonka Dukureh,” Luhrmann wrote on Instagram.
“From the moment she came into our world, Shonka brought joy, spirit and of course her voice and her music. Whenever she was on set, on stage or even just in the room, everyone always felt uplifted. Shonka was just starting to find a larger audience for her tremendous talent, and I got to see her uplift whole crowds of people at Coachella and beyond.”
“A favorite word of Shonka’s, in daily use, was ‘blessings,’ and I, along with the entire Elvis cast, crew and musical collaborators, feel truly blessed to have had time with her,” he continued.