Shonka Dukureh, Blues Singer Who Portrayed Big Mama Thornton in “Elvis,” Found Dead in Her Nashville Apartment at 44

Shonka Dukureh

Shonka Dukureh, the singer and actor who portrayed Big Mama Thornton in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” was found dead in her Nashville, Tenn. apartment on Thursday, police confirmed. She was 44.

According to a tweet from the Metro Nashville Police Department, no foul play is evident in Dukureh’s death. “Dukureh, a Fisk Univ graduate, was found dead in the bedroom of her Kothe Way apt that she shared with her 2 young children,” the tweet reads.

As reported by The Tennessean, Dukureh was found unresponsive on Thursday morning by one of her children, who went to a neighbor for help. A cause of death is not yet known and will be determined by the medical examiner.

Dukureh got her breakout role this year in “Elvis” as Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, the iconic R&B singer-songwriter who was the first to record Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “Hound Dog” in 1952, which would later be made even more famous by Elvis Presley. “Elvis” was Dukureh’s first major film role, and her voice is featured on the film’s soundtrack in her version of “Hound Dog.”

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SOURCE: Variety, Ellise Shafer