Elvis Actress and Singer Shonka Dukureh, 44, Found Dead in Her Nashville Apartment: Police

·3 min read

Shonka Dukureh, who appeared in the Elvis biopic as Big Mama Thornton alongside Austin Butler, has died, Nashville Metropolitan Police Department confirms to PEOPLE. She was 44 years old.

Dukureh was found dead in the bedroom of her Kothe Way apartment that she shared with her two young children, a news release from police stated. One of them found her unresponsive and ran to a neighbor's apartment. The neighbor called 911 at 9:27 a.m.

No foul play is suspected, according to the news release, though authorities are awaiting autopsy results from the Davidson County Medical Examiner's Office for an official cause of death, Nashville Metropolitan PD tells PEOPLE.

RELATED: Austin Butler Had 'No Idea How' Elvis Presley's Family 'Were Going to Respond' to His Portrayal

"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 via Fox17. "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 reports.

ELVIS Copyright: No Data Photo Credit: Kane Skennar Caption: SHONKA DUKUREH as Big Mama Thornton in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
ELVIS Copyright: No Data Photo Credit: Kane Skennar Caption: SHONKA DUKUREH as Big Mama Thornton in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Kane Skennar/Warner Bros.

"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 programing, summer programing — those programs that we need during the break so that kids can have a positive place to be," Dukureh said.

RELATED: Austin Butler Says He Was Hospitalized After Playing Elvis: 'My Body Just Started Shutting Down'

In June, Dukureh told the outlet that many of her students reached out to her after seeing her in Elvis.

"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.

"Somebody asked, 'Are you nervous? It's like 70,000 people out there,' " she told WPLN. "I said, 'I have come too far now to be nervous because it's showtime now! I can't turn around!' "

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In an interview with Shadow and Act in April, the singer opened up about getting the opportunity to not only have her dreams play out on the big screen, but onstage, too.

"It's been amazing and I'm looking forward to doing it all over again," she said. "It's just been a dream. I didn't even know it was a dream [of mine] until I really got there and experienced everything, but it has really been a chance of a lifetime, this life-altering experience."