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Blues singer and ‘Elvis’ actress Shonka Dukureh found dead at 44

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American blues singer and aspiring actress Shonka Dukureh has been found dead at her home in Tennessee, police said Thursday.

She was rocketed to international fame just months before her death, after playing Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis.” She was 44 years old.

“Dukureh was found dead in the bedroom of her Kothe Way apartment which she shared with her two young children,” Nashville Metropolitan Police said in a statement. One of her children found her unconscious and ran to alert a neighbor, who called 911, he added.

“No foul play is evident,” police said, and an autopsy was scheduled to determine the cause of death.

Tributes poured in for the singer from Charlotte, North Carolina, who had called Nashville home.

“A special light went out today,” Luhrmann, the director of “Elvis,” wrote on Instagram. He said the film’s cast and crew were “heartbroken” and shared footage of her on set.

“From the moment she arrived in our world, Shonka brought joy, spirit and of course her voice and her music. Every time she was on set, on stage, or even just in the room, everyone always felt uplifted,” Luhrmann added. “Shonka was just beginning to find a wider audience for her immense talent.”

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She rose to fame alongside Austin Butler, who plays Elvis Presley in the animated biopic, and Tom Hanks as his Svengali-esque manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Butler shared Luhrmann’s tribute online.

The film is expected to win accolades during Hollywood awards season. It highlights the white music icon’s practice of drawing on the work of his black contemporaries, and Dukureh plays American blues singer Thornton, who was the first to record Leiber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog” in 1952, which a young on-screen Elvis hears and adopts. .

Dukureh graduated from Fisk University in Nashville, where she studied acting, and later earned a master’s degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University. She has also worked as an author and playwright, according to her official website.

She has performed with artists such as Nick Cave, Mike Farris and Jamie Liddell and appeared at this year’s Coachella Music Festival with singer and rapper Doja Cat.

“Amazing talent taken from us too soon,” Doja Cat, real name Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini, posted on Instagram in a tribute. “It was a real honor to know her,” she added, sharing a photo of them together.

Dukureh had planned to release her first studio album, titled “The Lady Sings the Blues”. “The project is a tribute to the blues musical genre as a tribute to those fierce, unsung pioneering artists and musicians who paved the way for the rock ‘n roll music revolution,” according to its website.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper tweeted his condolences to Dukureh’s family and said that “his powerful voice and artistry will live on through his music, and we honor his memory on this sad day”.



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