Actor Shonka Dukureh dead: ‘Elvis’ co-stars pay tribute

Actress and singer Shonka Dukureh, who appeared in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” has died, according to Nashville police. She was 44.

On Thursday, Dukureh was found dead in the bedroom of the Nashville apartment she shared with her two young children. The Nashville police said on Twitter. Police said, “There is no apparent foul play.” A cause of death has yet to be announced.

The 2022 biopic, which was released just last month, marked Dukureh’s big screen debut alongside Austin Butler and Tom Hanks. She played singer-songwriter Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, who first recorded the 1952 hit “Hound Dog.”

Dukureh recorded a version of “Hound Dog” for the “Elvis” soundtrack and was also featured on Doja Cat’s single for the movie “Vegas”. She joined Doja Cat on stage to perform the track at Coachella earlier this year.

In a July 13 Instagram post, Dukureh expressed her joy and gratitude for the role she played in the box office hit.

“Gratitude is where I live because my grandma, grandma, mom and family lived and instilled it in me,” she wrote. “It’s not an attitude of less than or crumbs, but one that recognizes that good things aren’t guaranteed, and when we encounter them, gratitude is the least we can express.”

Dukureh had been working on her debut studio album, The Lady Sings the Blues.

“The project pays homage to the blues music genre in celebration of these wild, unsung, pioneering artists and musicians who paved the way for the rock ‘n’ roll music revolution,” she wrote on her website.

Before making music full-time, Dukureh worked as a teacher in the Nashville public school system. A native of Charlotte, NC, he received a bachelor’s degree in theater from Fisk University in Nashville and a master’s degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University.

“I taught second grade at Buena Vista Elementary in Metro Schools for a while, and then did a lot of work with inner-city youth who programmed after-school, summer programs — those programs that we need to have during breaks so kids can have a positive place,” Dukureh told WPLN.

After her death, Dukureh’s “Elvis” co-stars took to social media to commemorate her.

Luhrmann paid tribute to Dukureh on his Instagram on Friday.

“A special light went out today and the entire Elvis film family is heartbroken at the loss of Shonka Dukureh. From the moment she came into our world, Shonka brought joy, spirit and of course her voice and music,” Luhrmann wrote. “Whenever she was on set, on stage, or even just in the room, everyone always felt encouraged. Shonka was just starting to find a bigger audience for her tremendous talent, and I’ve seen her cheering up entire crowds at Coachella and beyond.”

Luhrmann concluded the post by saying, “A favorite word of Shonka in everyday use was ‘blessing’ and I along with the entire Elvis cast, crew and musical staff feel truly blessed to have had time with her. We send all our love and support to Shonka’s children and family at this time.”


“Rest in peace Shonka – an incredible talent that was taken from us too soon. It was a true honor to meet her and I am truly grateful to her for lending her incredible vocals to ‘Vegas,'” Doja Cat wrote in an Instagram Story. “Her amazing performance in Elvis alongside her other artistry will live on. I send my deepest condolences to her loved ones.”

Singer Yola, who played sister Rosetta Tharpe in the film, paid tribute to her friend and co-star on her Instagram on Friday morning.

“Today we lost a gentle soul. We in Nashville knew her as a very humble and shy person who would transform into tremendous singing and acting talent before our very eyes,” Yola wrote. “We are heartbroken. Rest in power dear Shonka Dukureh, your light went out much too soon. Sending love to her family, including her two young children, at this incredibly difficult time.” Actor Shonka Dukureh dead: ‘Elvis’ co-stars pay tribute

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