IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Elvis' actor Shonka Dukureh, 44, found dead in her Nashville apartment

The gospel singer played the part of rhythm and blues icon Big Mama Thornton in Baz Luhrmann's biopic. 
Shonka Dukureh put on a powerful performance as rhythm and blues icon Big Mama Thornton in "Elvis." 
Shonka Dukureh put on a powerful performance as rhythm and blues icon Big Mama Thornton in "Elvis." Warner Bros.

Actor-singer Shonka Dukureh has died shortly after making her big screen debut.

According to the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, the body of the 44-year-old gospel performer, who played the part of rhythm and blues icon Big Mama Thornton in the Baz Luhrmann-directed biopic “Elvis,” was found in the Nashville apartment she shared with her two young children Thursday. 

No foul play was evident, police said.

"A special light went out today and all of the Elvis movie family are heartbroken by the loss of Shonka Dukureh," Luhrmann wrote in a post he shared on Instagram Thursday. "From the moment she came into 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."

The Australian filmmaker went on to rave about Dukureh's recently rising fame, which included a performance alongside Doja Cat at Coachella in April, as well as an appearance in Doja Cat's "Vegas" music video.

"Shonka was just starting to find a larger audience for her tremendous talent, and I got to see her uplift whole crowds of people at Coachella and beyond," he continued. "A favorite word of Shonka’s, in daily use, was 'blessings,' and I, along with the entire Elvis cast, crew and musical collaborators, 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."

In a chat with Luhrmann for Buzzfeed recorded in June, “Elvis” lead Austin Butler also spoke highly of Dukureh and the power of her performances. 

"She’s so soft-spoken," the star said. "Then you watch her perform and this fierce animal comes out. She’s unbelievable."

Doja Cat took to her Instagram Stories Friday to share her memories of the late singer.

“Rest in Peace Shonka — an incredible talent taken from us too soon." the rapper-singer said. "Was a true honor getting to know her and I’m so grateful to her for lending her incredible vocals to ‘Vegas.’ Her amazing performance in Elvis amongst her other artistry will live on. Sending my deepest condolences to her loved ones.” 

Dukureh had been scheduled to perform at the John Lewis Way March in Nashville on Saturday, July 23. Now she will be honored after the march instead.

“I thought it would be wrong for us not to say or do something,” Metro Councilwoman Zulfat Suara told Nashville NBC station WSMV. “And so, I spoke with the committee, and we decided on the stage that she was supposed to perform at ... we want that stage to be where we will remember her remember Shonka, the person, and her craft and her music.”