Shonka Dukureh was found dead Thursday, “in the bedroom of her Kothe Way apartment that she shared with her 2 young children,” according to Nashville police.

Who was Shonka Dukureh?

Dukureh had recently achieved notoriety in her portrayal of Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” but her career was filled with years of performing in various capacities.

Luhrmann shared a note on Instagram, saying “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.”

Dukureh toured internationally with recording artist Jamie Liddell and The Royal Pharaohs, provided background vocals to a number of Grammy award-winning artists, and starred in many touring musicals and plays around the country, per her website.

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Her manager Tracy Matthews said, “she definitely has the ability to tell any song’s story with passion, taking her listeners on an emotional journey as she pours her heart and soul into each and every note and nuance.”

Dukureh received a bachelor’s degree in theater from Fisk University and a master’s degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University.

Last week she reflected on her recent success, posting on Instagram that “good things aren’t a guarantee and when we encounter them thankfulness, gratefulness is the least we can express.”

According to the HuffPost, “Shonka was found unresponsive by one of her children who called emergency services,” and post-mortem results have not yet been released by the medical examiner.

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