Skip to Content

Tragedy has struck Hollywood.

According to the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department, Shonka Dukureh — a singer and actress who plays a key role in the new Elvis bioptic — was found dead on Thursday morning.

She was 44 years old.

Dukureh portrays Big Mama Thornton in Baz Luhrmann’s new movie, opposite Austin Butler, who takes on the legendary title character.

The film marks her official acting debut, although Dukureh also makes an appearance (also as Big Mama Thornton) in the music video for Doja Cat’s song “Vegas” from the movie’s soundtrack.

Authorities say she was found unconscious in the bedroom of her Tennessee home by one of her two kids.

This child then ran to a neighbor’s apartment, and the neighbor called 911 at 9:27 a.m.

No foul play is suspected.

However, authorities are awaiting autopsy results from the Davidson County Medical Examiner’s Office for an official cause of death.

“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 via Fox17.

“Her powerful voice and artistry will live on through her music, and we honor her memory on this sad day.”

Dukureh was a popular gospel singer in the Nashville area.

She reflected on her first big screen role in an interview shared to her Instagram page just last week.

“Gratefulness is where I live cuz my granny, gmama, momma, family modeled and instilled it in me,” she captioned the footage.

“It isn’t a posture of less than or crumbs scraping, but one that acknowledges good things aren’t a guarantee and when we encounter them thankfulness, gratefulness is the least we can express.”

In an April interview with Shadow and Act in April, the singer — who also taught second grade for many years — opened up about getting the opportunity to not only have her dreams play out as a movie star… but on stage, as well.

“It’s been amazing and I’m looking forward to doing it all over again,” she said this spring.

“It’s just been a dream.

“I didn’t even know it was a dream [of mine] until I really got there and experienced everything, but it has really been a chance of a lifetime, this life-altering experience.”

Co-star Olivia DeJonge, who played Priscilla Presley in Elvis, told Entertainment Weekly that “a star was essentially born” when Dukureh performed for the cameras.

DeJonge said she saw “something in her sort of break free. It was just, it was insane to watch.”

Dukureh reposted the clip and replied as follows:

“Grateful to not only hear her words, but the beautiful sentiments of all the cast present as well as Baz.

“If [you’re] sitting somewhere wondering when, if, folks will get you, just keep on keeping on, the right folks will.”

May Shonka Dukureh rest in peace.