Overnight the news broke that actress Shonka Dukureh was found dead in her apartment. The 44-year-old singer most recently starred on the big screen as Big Mama Thornton in the Elvis Presley biopic from Baz Luhrmann – Elvis.
The real-life woman she portrayed also had a tragic and early death after suffering “heart and liver disorders” aged 57-years-old. She was also a lifelong alcoholic.
She was a big star in her own right, however, as she has been noted as the original singer of Elvis’ enormous pop hit: Hound Dog.
Elvis recorded and released Hound Dog back in 1956, just before his fame exploded into the worldwide phenomenon fans know today.
But four years prior, in 1952, Big Mama Thornton recorded her own version of Hound Dog.
The song was originally penned by writers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
The latter recently appeared on an episode of the Rolling Stone Podcast where he recalled Elvis’ version hitting the airwaves.
Stoller maintained that Elvis “did not” steal the song from Big Mama Thornton.
Instead, he claimed that Elvis was instead inspired by the group Freddie Bell and the Bellboys.
In his recording, he used their musical and lyrical changes, proving that it was not Big Mama Thornton’s original version that spurred him on in the first place.
And Elvis’ version has gone down in history as it sold more than 10 million copies around the world.
Despite this, Stoller maintained that Big Mama Thornton’s version was far superior.
The story goes that Leiber and Stoller wrote Hound Dog for Big Mama Thornton “just 15 minutes” after seeing her perform on stage.
“I don’t remember exactly what the song was,” Stoller recalled. “But she knocked us out.”
Although they had a great reverence for Big Mama Thornton, they went on to work with Elvis even more during the following years.
Stoller and Leiber wrote a number of big songs for Elvis over the years.
Not only did they write You’re So Square and Trouble, but they also penned Jailhouse Rock for the singer.
Their effect on the music industry can even be felt today.
Leiber and Stoller’s Hound Dog has been sampled in Doja Cat’s song Vegas, which was released this year.