Singer and actress Shonka Dukureh was found dead in her Nashville, Tennessee, apartment on Thursday. A cause of death has not been revealed.
The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department confirmed the news on Twitter.
“BREAKING: 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,” they shared in a statement.
BREAKING: 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.
— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) July 21, 2022
Dukureh recently portrayed Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in the new film, Elvis. She also contributed to the movie’s soundtrack, including Doja Cat’s “Vegas,” which samples Dukureh’s vocals from her cover of “Hound Dog.” The two performed the song at Coachella in April.
The Elvis soundtrack was released on RCA Records. The label issued a statement remembering Dukureh.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of the extremely talented Shonka Dukureh. Shonka’s light shined so bright and these past few months – portraying Big Mama Thornton in the ELVIS movie and singing on the film’s soundtrack, including alongside Doja Cat on “Vegas” – the world got to witness her light and greatness,” RCA Records said. “An actress, singer, mother and so much more. She will be deeply missed. Sending our condolences to her family and loved ones at this time.”
Rest in Peace Shonka Dukureh. You will be deeply missed. pic.twitter.com/K5zHjtXdQQ
— rcarecords (@RCARecords) July 22, 2022
In an interview with Rated R&B, Dukureh shared how she prepared for her role as Big Mama Thornton. “I knew that Big Mama Thornton was heavy into music. Instead of focusing on how to mock her or recreate her movements, I allowed the music to take my physical self to a different place,” she said.
“One thing that stood out to me as I was researching Big Mama Thornton was her self-confidence. Her knowing of herself [and] not being afraid of bringing exactly who she was to the table, whatever table it was. As I was going into the process, I knew that I first needed to be confident that whatever I was bringing to the table was enough for me to embody the whole experience at that time.”
Dukureh also had teased her upcoming project Lady Sings the Blues. “I was very much inspired, not only by Big Mama Thornton and her musical legacy but also all of the early blues music that was foundational for rock & roll,” she told Rated R&B. “I wanted to pay tribute to that genre.”
Revisit Shonka Dukureh’s “Hound Dog” cover below.