Shonka Dukureh, 44, who played Big Mama Thornton in Baz Luhrmann‘s highly acclaimed biopic Elvis, has died. The actress and singer reportedly passed away Thursday, July 21, in Nashville, Tennesse. The Metro Nashville Police Department tweeted out details the same day.
“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,” they tweeted. “Dukureh, a Fisk Univ graduate, was found dead in the bedroom of her Kothe Way apt that she shared with her 2 young children.” A cause of death is still pending. Here’s what to know about the talented actress who tragically lost her life today.
She’s a mother of two.
Per The Tennesean, Shonka was found unresponsive on the floor by one of her two young children, who went to a neighbor to get help. Very little is known about her kids, but she did take to Instagram on March 16 to share that she has a son who loves music. “We gone call dis one A Spring Break Exclusive ~ my babies favorite vacation,” she captioned the video, which showed Shonka with a masked young boy, who was jamming on a turntable.
“My first born thoroughly enjoys frequenting guitar center to explore all the happening instruments and gear. He happened upon a very cool turntable set up and let me vibe witem a sec. Grateful to Be His Mom.”
She only has one major film role.
Shonka’s high profile role as R&B singer and songwriter Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton would prove to be her first and only major acting role. Aside from working with director Baz, she also appeared in her breakout role alongside Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, and Olivia DeJonge, among others.
“I was very aware and wanting to really be intentional about making sure I was paying respect, respecting her, respecting her legacy, respecting her spirit, respecting everything about what she brought to music and understanding that I’m able to do it because she’s done it and laid that foundation,” she said of playing Big Mama Thornton, per The Tennessean.
She’s also a gospel singer.
The multitalented woman is also known as a gospel singer. Nashville Mayor John Cooper lamented the loss of her immense talents in a tweet on Thursday. “Her powerful voice and artistry will live on through her music, and we honor her memory on this sad day,” he wrote.
Shonka reportedly had an album in the works, according to her official website. She was inspired by her role in Elvis, the site said, and the album “is a tribute to the blues music genre in celebration of those fierce unsung pioneering artists and musicians who paved the way for the rock’n roll music revolution.”
Her voice is featured on the movie’s soundtrack.
Performing the legendary song “Hound Dog,” Shonka’s powerful voice can be heard on the Elvis film soundtrack. Big Mama Thornton recorded the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller hit back in 1952 — years before Elvis would further popularize it in 1956.
She has a graduate degree.
The Tennessean reports that Shonka was highly educated, as well as highly accomplished. The actress reportedly received a bachelor’s degree from Nashville’s Fisk University in theater. She additionally earned a master’s degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University.