Blues singer and actress Shonka Dukureh has died at the age of 44.
Dukureh, who starred as Big Mama Thornton in the recent blockbuster hit “Elvis,” was found dead Thursday morning (July 21) in her Nashville apartment, the Metro Nashville Police Department reported.
According to the MNPD, the actress was found unresponsive in her bedroom by one of her two children. The child, whose age hasn’t been given, went to a neighbor’s apartment for help after finding Dukureh. The neighbor called 911.
Police do not suspect foul play, and a medical examiner is working to determine the cause of her death, according to an MNPD spokesperson.
Dukureh graduated from Fisk University with a bachelor’s degree in theater, and earned a master’s degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University. According to her website, Shonka’s aspired to become a teacher, but realized that her “vocal talents, coupled with an innate sense for the dramatic were most suited for a career as a performing artist.”
Her first major film role came as Big Mama Thornton in the recently released “Elvis” biopic. In an interview earlier this month, the multitalented star opened up about her big screen break.
“In the film I sing a big of ‘Hound Dog,’….I’m basically part of the whole Beale Street thing,” Dukureh said. “I find, even as I’m looking at peoples’ reactions online, that a whole new generation is talking about Elvis and talking about some of the characters in the film….If Big Mama’s name is mentioned more than myself, that’s fine because she’s due that recognition. So I’m very honored to honor her.”
In the same interview, Dukureh talked about the moment she shared with her children while watching the movie in a theater.
“My children, they gave the most sacrifice when I had to leave. I had to go to Australia to do the film and was there almost a month and a half. They missed mom,” she said. “I got an opportunity to show them exactly why mom had to be away. And to just have my children sitting in that theater and watching me come on the screen…and just scream in the theater, ‘That’s my mom.’ I was so proud.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with Shonka Dukureh’s loved ones.