Actor Shonka Dukureh, who had a starring role in Baz Luhrmann's biopic 'Elvis' has died at the age of 44. Dukureh, who played Big Mama Thornton in 'Elvis', was found dead on Thursday morning in a bedroom at her home in Nashville, which she shared with her two young children, the Metro Nashville Police Department said.
Police said that as of now they don't suspect any foul play though authorities are awaiting autopsy results from the Davidson County Medical Examiner's Office for an official cause of death. Dukureh's rendition of the song "Hound Dog", which Thornton recorded in 1952, four years before Presley, went viral online after the film was released.
Died too Young
According to a police news release, Dukureh was found unresponsive in the bedroom of the Kothe Way residence she shared with her two young children. One of them saw she was not breathing and rushed to a neighbor's residence. 9:27 a.m.âthe neighbor dialed 911.
There are no signs of foul play, according to the police. The medical examiner's autopsy results have not yet been released.
"My deepest condolences to the family of Shonka Dukureh. Shonka graduated from Fisk and called Nashville home for many years," Nashville Mayor John Cooper said in a statement.
"Her powerful voice and artistry will live on through her music, and we honor her memory on this sad day," the statement further read.
The North Carolina native's debut leading role in a major motion picture was as Big Mama Thornton in 'Elvis.' Additionally, she performed the role in the music video for the song Doja Cat's Vegas from the film's soundtrack.
Thornton was the first to record Leiber and Stoller's Hound Dog and the single was released in February 1953. Elvis Presley released a cover version three years later, and it soon became a global hit.
Dukureh was working on her first full-length studio album when she passed away. She described the album as "a tribute to the blues music genre in celebration of those fierce unsung pioneering artists and musicians who paved the way for the rock and roll music revolution."
She loved the arts, but teaching was her first love, according to Nashville-area news source WPLN.
"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 programming, summer programming â those programs that we need during the break so that kids can have a positive place to be," Dukureh said.
Dukureh also participated in recording sessions with them and sang background vocals for artists like Nick Cave, Mike Farris, Jamie Lidell, and the Royal Pharaohs. Her initial aspiration was to become a teacher, but she later changed her mind and chose to become a performing artist.
She earned a bachelor's degree in drama from Fisk University. According to her website, she also had a master's degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University.