Elvis Actress and Singer Shonka Dukureh Dies One Month After Big Screen Debut

In a sad round of news, singer and actor Shonka Dukureh passes away at her Nashville apartment on Thursday, July 21. The actress was popular for her role as Big Mama Thornton in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, which released in June. She died one month after her big on-screen debut.


Shonka Dukureh was 44 when she passed away at her Nashville house. According to a tweet from the Metro Nashville Police Department, no foul play has been reported.

The tweet read, “No foul play is evident in today’s death of actress Shonka Dukureh, 44, who portrayed Big Mama Thornton in this year’s Elvis movie. Dukureh, a Fisk Univ graduate, was found dead in the bedroom of her Kothe Way apt that she shared with her 2 young children. (sic).”

The actor and singer, recently shared the stage at Coachella this year with Doja Cat. She had a theatre degree from Fisk University and an education degree from Trevecca Nazarene. Elvis marked Shonka Dukureh’s first major film role.

She played the role of Willie Mae Big Mama Thornton. For the uninitiated, Big ,Mama Thornton was the iconic R&B singer-songwriter who was the first to record Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Hound Dog in 1952.

Throughout her career, Shonka has performed and worked with many big artists, including Jamie Lidell and the Royal Pharaohs, Nick Cave, Mike Farris, Pete Rock, Smoke Dza and Bahamas.

According to her website, Dukureh had plans to release her first full-length album soon.

“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,” she wrote on her website.