Shonka Dukureh, an actress and musician who portrayed R&B singer Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in This Year elvis The biopic has died at the age of 44.
Dukureh was found dead at her home in Nashville by police on Thursday (July 21), after one of her two young children found her unresponsive and sought help from a neighbor, who called 911. According to the police, there is no evidence of foul play. No cause of death has been disclosed, and the results of the medical examiner’s autopsy are still pending.
elvis, director Baz Luhrmann’s biopic about Elvis Presley, which hits theaters in June, marked Dukureh’s first major film role. He portrayed Thornton, who was the first artist to record “Hound Dog” in 1952, a version that Presley had hit with the song a few years earlier.
In addition to appearing in the film, Dukureh also starred in the music video for Doja Cat. elvis The soundtrack, ‘Vegas’, features samples from Thornton’s ‘Hound Dog’ recording. Dukureh also appeared on stage with Doja Cat during the rapper’s set at Coachella in April this year, performing the song together. Dukureh’s recording of ‘Hound Dog’ appears on soundtrack elvis,
Dukureh grew up in Nashville, graduating from Fisk University with a theater degree and Treveka Nazarene with a degree in education. In addition to her work as a musician and actress, she had previously been a teacher and ran school and summer after-school programs for youth within the city.
Speaking about Dukureh earlier this year, director Baz Luhrmann said he had answered a call to sing while he was recording with Dave Cobb in Nashville. “Her performance was so great that she seemed like the perfect person to play the all-important role of Willie May ‘Big Mama’ Thornton in Elvis,” Luhrmann said.