Actress and Elvis singer Shonka Dukureh dies aged 44
Shonka Dukureh, a singer and actress who recently portrayed blues legend Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvisdied at age 44.
The Charlotte, North Carolina native was found dead in her Nashville apartment on Thursday, July 21, according to the Metro Nashville Police Department. The police department confirmed on Twitter that “no foul play is evident,” adding that the actress shared her home with her two young children. A cause of death has not yet been identified.
Dukureh grew up in Charlotte and moved to Nashville to attend Fisk University, where she studied acting. She was a self-taught singer who opened for Jamie Liddell and the Royal Pharaohs, and worked with artists like Nick Cave, Mike Farris, Pete Rock and Smoke Dza.
The singer and actress won acclaim for her performance as Thornton in Elvis, released earlier this summer. In the film, she performed the singer’s version of “Hound Dog” by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, which Thornton recorded in 1952. Her rendition appears on the film’s soundtrack.
“A special light went out today and the entire Elvis movie family is heartbroken at the loss of Shonka Dukureh,” Luhrmann wrote on Instagram. “From the moment she arrived in our world, Shonka brought joy, spirit and of course her voice and her music. Whenever she was on set, on stage, or even just in the room, everyone always felt uplifted. Shonka was just beginning to find a wider audience for her immense talent, and I got to see her elevate whole crowds of people at Coachella and beyond.
The filmmaker added: “A favorite word of Shonka, used daily, was ‘blessings’ and I, along with the entire cast, crew and musical collaborators of Elvis, feel truly blessed to spending time with her.”
Dukureh appeared in the clip for Doja Cat’s contribution to the Elvis soundtrack, “Vegas”, which interpolates a sample from Thornton’s “Hound Dog” recording. Dukureh also appeared on stage with Doja Cat during her set at Coachella to perform the song.
Doja Cat paid tribute to the performer in an Instagram story, writing, “Rest in peace Shonka – an amazing talent that was taken from us too soon. It was a real honor to know her and I’m very grateful to her for providing the voice for “Vegas”. His incredible performance in Elvis among his other artistic talents will live on. I send my deepest condolences to his loved ones. »