On July 21, Shonka Dukureh’s body was discovered in her Nashville apartment. Shonka Dukureh played Big Mama Thornton in the recently released Elvis Presley biopic. According to the Davidson County Medical Examiner’s office in Tennessee, the 44-year-old actress and singer passed away naturally from “hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease,” the Los Angeles Times and other media sites reported Wednesday.
Hypertension is more commonly known as high blood pressure. Atherosclerosis describes the “thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque in the inner lining of an artery,” according to John Hopkins Medical. Dukureh, who recently appeared in the recently released Elvis biopic as Big Mama Thornton alongside Austin Butler, was found dead in the bedroom of her Kothe Way apartment that she shared with her two young children, a news release from the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department said on July 21.
One of Dukureh’s children found her unresponsive that morning and ran to a neighbor’s apartment. The neighbor called 911 at 9:27 a.m. local time, according to the release. No foul play was suspected in the immediate aftermath of Dukureh’s death. “My deepest condolences to the family of Shonka Dukureh.
Shonka graduated from Fisk and called Nashville home for many years,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper said in a statement. “Her powerful voice and artistry will live on through her music, and we honor her memory on this sad day.” A celebrated gospel singer in the Nashville area, Dukureh’s career as an actress was just beginning.
Though she had a passion for the arts, her first love was being a teacher, local Nashville news outlet WPLN reported. In June, Dukureh told the outlet that many of her students reached out to her after seeing her in Elvis. “I taught second grade for a little while over at Buena Vista Elementary in Metro Schools, and then did a lot of work with inner city youth doing after-school programming, summer programming — those programs that we need during the break so that kids can have a positive place to be,” Dukureh said.
“They’re blown away, like, ‘Wow! Miss Shonka! Really?’ “ she said, laughing. “I said, ‘I’m still Ms. Shonka, you know!’ “ In addition to appearing in the Baz Luhrmann-directed film, Dukureh appeared onstage with Doja Cat at Coachella this year. Doja and Dukureh collaborated on the song “Vegas” for the Elvis soundtrack.
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