Screenshot from a gospel performance by Shonka Dukureh.
Screengrab via YouTube

Shonka Dukureh, Musician and Star of 'Elvis' Biopic, Dead at 44

Shonka Dukureh, the 44-year-old musician who portrays Big Mama Thornton in Elvis, was found dead Thursday (July 21) in the Nashville apartment she shared with her two young children.

One of the gospel and blues singer's kids found her unresponsive Thursday morning and sought help from a neighbor. Per the Tennessean, the neighbor called 911 at 9:27 a.m.

The Tennessean added that the Metro Nashville Police Department does not suspect foul play, and the medical examiner is working to identify the cause of Dukureh's death.

A Charlotte native and Nashville resident, Dukureh earned a bachelor's degree in theater from Fisk University and a master's degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University.

Dukureh's role in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis Presley biopic as Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, an R&B trailblazer and the original performer of "Hound Dog," was her first major film role.

"A special light went out today and all of the Elvis movie family are heartbroken by the loss of Shonka Dukureh," Luhrmann shared Thursday 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."

Dukureh's rising exposure included an April performance at Coachella with Doja Cat and an appearance in the rapper's "Vegas" music video.

"Rest in Peace Shonka — an incredible talent taken from us too soon." Doja Cat shared in an Instagram story. "Was a true honor getting to know her and I'm so grateful to her for lending her incredible vocals to 'Vegas.' Her amazing performance in Elvis amongst her other artistry will live on. Sending my deepest condolences to her loved ones."

The rising star was also been praised by Elvis star Austin Butler and Nashville Mayor John Cooper, with the latter tweeting that "her powerful voice and artistry will live on through her music."

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