One month after the 2022 release ElvisShonka Dukureh (who played Big Mama Thornton) was found dead at her Nashville home. She was 44.
“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,” the official Metro Nashville Police Department account tweeted on Thursday, July 21. “Dukureh, a Fisk [University] graduate, was found dead in the bedroom of her Kothe Way apt that she shared with her 2 young children.” A Davidson County Medical Examiner spokesperson told E! News that the actress’ body is being held for an autopsy.
Dukureh made her movie debut with Elvis, portraying R&B singer Thornton — the artist who originally recorded “Hound Dog,” which would later go on to become one of Presley’s signature songs. Dukureh’s powerful cover of the hit appears on the film’s soundtrack.
Dukureh was a fixture within her Nashville community. In addition to graduating from Music City’s Fisk University, one of the top HBCUs in the country, the mother of two was a gospel singer who used to work as an elementary school teacher.
“I taught second grade for a little while over at Buena Vista Elementary in Metro Schools, and then did a lot of work with inner city youth doing after-school programing, summer programing — those programs that we need during the break so that kids can have a positive place to be,” Dukureh told WPLN in June, laughing about how her former students are stunned that she’s in Elvis. “They’re blown away, like, ‘Wow! Miss Shonka! Really?’ I said, ‘I’m still Ms. Shonka, you know!’”
Although the late star may have had her big break with Elvis, her career was already booming earlier in the year. She provided her vocals for the show. Doja Cat track “Vegas” and performing with the “Say So” artist at Coachella in April.
Upon hearing the news of Dukureh’s death, Doja Cat took to her Instagram Story to pay tribute to the singer gone “too soon.”
“Rest in Peace Shonka – an incredible talent taken from us too soon. Was a true honor getting to know her and I am so grateful to her for lending vocals to ‘Vegas,’” the “Kiss Me More” singer wrote on Thursday. “Her amazing performance in Elvis amongst her other artistry will live on. Sending my deepest condolences to her loved ones.”
Keep scrolling to learn more about Dukureh’s life: