'Elvis' Breakout Star Shonka Dukureh Who Played Big Mama Thornton Has Passed Aways

'Elvis' Breakout Star Shonka Dukureh Who Played Big Mama Thornton Has Passed Away

Dukureh, 44, was with her two children at home. The police suspect no foul play.

Cover Image Source: Instagram/@iamshonkadukureh

Elvis star Shonka Dukureh passed away on Thursday, July 21, 2022, Nashville Police confirmed. She was 44 years old. Starring in the Baz Luhrmann classic Elvis, she played Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton who was the person behind the song Hound Dog before Elvis made it popular beyond comprehension, CNN reported. 


Police suspect no foul play. She was found unresponsive by one of her children who then went to a neighbor for help. A cause of death is not yet known and will be determined by the medical examiner. Dukureh was a singer, actor, and former teacher. She was originally a Charlotte, N.C resident before moving to Nashville, Variety reported. Getting her bachelor’s degree in theater from Fisk University, she got her master’s degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University. 


After the movie, Dukureh planned to release her own album named Lady Sings the Blues, according to ESSENCE. “I just feel like when a woman sings the blues, it just comes from a different place. And people just receive it in a different way. It’s so important for a woman to sing the blues. Of course we going to get some Big Mama Thornton in there. I’m just excited to give my interpretation, give my nod, my ‘thank you’ to their foundational genre,” she said. On her website, the description reads, “The project is a tribute to the blues music genre in celebration of those fierce unsung pioneering artists and musicians who paved the way for the rock’n roll music revolution.” 


Last week, she shared a video on Instagram talking about her experiences with Elvis and how her character came together. She wrote in the caption, “Thank you to Christopher B Franklin for thinking enough of me to offer this platform. Gratefulness is where I live cuz my granny, gmama, momma, family modeled and instilled it in me. It isn’t a posture of less than or crumbs scraping, but one that acknowledges good things aren’t a guarantee and when we encounter them thankfulness, gratefulness is the least we can express.”


Apart from being extremely grateful for getting the part, she was also respectful of the fact that she would be embodying the legacy of Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. “I just knew that I needed to be very intentional," she said. "I needed to be honest because I knew she was highly respected, what she meant to music, what she means to be Black community and what she meant to the world musically. So I wanted to make sure that I just honored that.” 


Dukureh will always be remembered for bringing Big Mama Thornton to our screens. And as if that isn’t enough, she also collaborated with current pop icon Doja Cat on the song Vegas, a track from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Speaking of that, she said, “First of all, she was the ultimate professional, clearly a brilliant, creative person. Just to come into her process and watch her work, I was just excited to be there.” Outside of this recording, Dukureh also performed live with the Need to Know singer at Coachella. “It was just amazing to be on stage with her and just be a part of what she does,” she said. “Because I know she was a well respected, well-known, and I was just happy to be there.”