Singer Shonka Dukureh, star in new ‘Elvis’ movie, found dead in apartment at age 44

A rising star who only recently was featured in a hit Hollywood film has reportedly just passed away at a relatively young age from an unknown cause.

Actress and gospel singer Shonka Dukureh, who portrayed blues singer Big Mama Thorton in the new “Elvis” movie, was found dead Thursday in her Nashville, Tennessee, area apartment at the age of 44, Fox News reported.

Star found dead in apartment

According to a tweet from the Metro Nashville Police Department, “No foul play is evident” in Dukureh’s untimely death, after she was “found dead in the bedroom” of the apartment she shared with her two young children.

No cause of death has been given but an autopsy will be performed by the medical examiner.

Fox News noted that, according to the police, one of Dukureh’s two children had found their mother “unresponsive” and then went to a neighbor’s apartment to have them call 911 and report the emergency around 9:30 am.

Nashville fixture

The Tennessean reported that Dukureh had been born in Charlotte, North Carolina, but had grown up and resided in the Nashville area for most of her life, where she received a bachelor’s degree in theater from Fisk College and a master’s degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University.

She initially pursued a career in education as a teacher but later began to make use of her talents as an actress and singer — she was set to release her first studio album this summer — and finally scored her breakout role in Hollywood as Big Mama Thornton in the new “Elvis” movie.

According to local NPR affiliate WPLN, Dukureh was not initially cast to be a star in the film and wasn’t even supposed to be seen on-screen, as she was instead hired to be one of about 50 backup gospel singers.

However, she reportedly delivered a “soulful performance” that resulted in her being picked to portray Thornton, a famous blues singer who originally came up with the “Hound Dog” song that would become one of Elvis Presley’s first major hits.

That incredible performance that earned her a starring role in the movie almost certainly stemmed from her life-long love of music and history of singing gospel songs at local churches and in theater productions in the area.

Mayor offers condolences

Perhaps in part because she had now become a big star, though she was already well known in her community, Dukureh’s death was mourned with a message of condolences issued by Nashville Mayor John Cooper, who said, “Her powerful voice and artistry will live on through her music, and we honor her memory on this sad day.”

This rising star, whose light was dimmed too soon, will certainly be missed by her family and friends and fans, but as the mayor rightly noted, her legacy will live on through her music.

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