Singer and actress Shonka Dukureh, who starred as blues singer Big Mama Thornton in this year’s ‘Elvis’ film, has been found dead at her home in Nashville, Tennessee.
Dukureh, 44, was found unresponsive in a bedroom by one of her two young children who she lived in an apartment with, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department said in a statement.
Her child is said to have gone to the apartment of a neighbour, who then called emergency services.
Police say there were no signs of foul play and post-mortem results are pending from the medical examiner to establish the cause of death.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper shared his condolences to Dukureh’s family on social media, saying she had graduated from Fisk University in the city she had called home for many years.
He wrote: “My deepest condolences to the family of Shonka Dukureh. Shonka graduated from @Fisk1866 and called Nashville home for many years. Her powerful voice and artistry will live on through her music, and we honor her memory on this sad day.”
What else has she starred in?
The 44-year-old had a theatre degree from Fisk University in Nashville and graduated from Trevecca Nazarene with an education degree, WPLN-FM reported.
In an interview with the station last month, Dukureh said she taught year two pupils for a while and then worked with inner city youth through after-school and summer programmes. She said those students reached out after seeing her in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic.
Her initial career aspiration was to become a teacher, but her vocal talents saw her turn to performing arts and her role as Big Mama Thornton in the Elvis biopic, released this year, marked her first major film role.
She also shared the stage at Coachella this year with Doja Cat, and has previously toured internationally with recording artist Jamie Liddell and The Royal Pharohs.
Her other recording credits include performing background vocals for Grammy Award winner Mike Farris on his 2018 Album Silver and Stone, background vocals for legendary music producer Pete Rock and Smoke Dza’s 2016 album Don’t Smoke Rocks, and background vocals for multiple Grammy Award winner Ashley Cleveland’s 2009 Album God Don’t Never Change.
Dukureh has also starred in many touring musicals and plays, and garnered critical acclaim for her role in American Duet, winning the 2003 Tennessean Theatre Award for Best Musical Direction or Performance as a Vocalist.
She also spent over ten years touring across the country to college campuses and conferences performing with the First Amendment Center’s Freedom Sings, a multimedia musical production.
The teacher turned Hollywood star was due to release her first studio album titled The Lady Sings the Blues this summer, according to her website.