NASHVILLE, TN—Beloved Nashville singer, ‘”Elvis” actress and playwright Shonka Dukureh, 44, has died unexpectedly, leaving behind two children.

Shonka Dukureh recently made her Hollywood film debut in this year’s hit drama “Elvis.” Photo courtesy of Shonka Dukureh.

She was found unresponsive Thursday morning in the Antioch apartment the three shared, according to Metro Nashville police. Details are still emerging, though authorities do not suspect foul play at this time.

Her soulful voice and powerful personality led her to be cast in the recently released “Elvis,” in which she portrayed Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, who first sang the popular ‘Hound Dog’ track Elvis later became known for. The film was Shonka’s first Hollywood project.

She was a Charlotte, N.C. native who made a name for herself in Music City over her time here. 

“I was humming music before I was forming words,” she said of her beginnings.

Shonka spent much of her formative years singing at her church and got involved with musical theater in Nashville, leading her to Fisk where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Theater. 

When her artistic endeavors ventured from her college campus to the larger Music City community, Shonka began getting opportunities to showcase her talents on the road. “That was my basis, my foundation to prepare me to take advantage of an opportunity that was presented to me to be a part of this absolutely amazing film,” she said.

The blues and gospel singer also accompanied artist Doja Cat during Coachella for her performance of ‘Vegas,’ which samples Shonka’s version of ‘Hound Dog.’

Released just one month ago, the film’s success was catapulting Shonka from a Nashville hidden gem to a worldwide phenomenon.

“I was just overjoyed and delighted and privileged, and it just felt very special to have been given such a profound opportunity,” she intimated.

She was thrilled at all of the recent successes and triumphs she’d experienced, one of which was the ability to record on Nashville’s famed Music Row for the film’s soundtrack.

Shonka was looking forward to putting out her first album this year, a release that was focused on honoring the Blues genre. “It’s just my way of paying tribute to the genre and giving a big ‘thank you’ to Mama Thornton for, in her way, sending this opportunity my way as well,” she said.