Shonka Dukureh, who played Big Mama Thornton in the new Elvis film, was found dead on Thursday in a bedroom at her home in Nashville, US police have said.
Nashville police said there were no signs of foul play but they are still waiting for the results of the autopsy.
The 44-year-old was a well-known singer in Nashville and shared her apartment with her two young children.
One of the children found her unresponsive and went to the apartment of a neighbour who called the police.
After news of her death was announced, the film's director Baz Luhrmann said he felt “truly blessed” to have had time with Dukureh.
Luhrmann shared a series of pictures which included an image of him kissing Dukureh on the forehead while on the set of Elvis.
He said: “A special light went out today and all of the Elvis movie family are heartbroken by the loss of Shonka Dukureh.
“From the moment she came into our world, Shonka brought joy, spirit and of course her voice and her music.
“Whenever she was on set, on stage or even just in the room, everyone always felt uplifted.
“Shonka was just starting to find a larger audience for her tremendous talent, and I got to see her uplift whole crowds of people at Coachella and beyond.
“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.”
The 59-year-old added that the cast and crew of Elvis were sending their “love and support” to her children and family.
The actress, who also shared the stage at Coachella this year with Doja Cat, had a theatre degree from Fisk University in Nashville and graduated from Trevecca Nazarene with an education degree, WPLN-FM reported.
Dukureh’s performance of the song Hound Dog, which Thornton recorded in 1952 - four years before Presley made it a worldwide hit - went viral online after the film was released.
In an interview with the station last month, Dukureh said she taught year two pupils for a while and then worked with inner city youths through after-school and summer programmes.
She said those students reached out after seeing her in Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic.
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