The Singing Nun

More often than not, the buzz going around in 1963 was about the Vietnam War, sex, drugs, and rock & roll. The Feminine Mystique hit bookstore shelves, Harvard gave Timothy Leary the boot over LSD, and the promiscuous fictional character of Tom Jones was a smash on the silver screen. While Elvis was singing about Girls, Girls, Girls and young people took as their slogan "Make Love, Not War," the most surprising star burst onto the pop scene. The Singing Nun, an unassuming member of a Belgian religious order who was also known as Soeur Sourire, hit the top of the music charts with a song about St. Dominic, who established the Dominicans. The Singing Nun, whose real name was Jeanine Deckers, sang "Dominique" in both English and French. The single relegated the Kingsmen and their "Louie Louie" to the number two spot. Sister Luc-Gabrielle, who entered the religious order in 1959, penned "Dominique" and recorded it and a few of her other compositions for personal release only, mainly to be used as gifts. When the Philips Record Company discovered her potential appeal, they offered the nun a contract and christened her Soeur Sourire. To American audiences she was the Singing Nun. She did not actively seek fame, although she sang for Ed Sullivan's television program in 1964 via tape. Live performances did not appeal to her, and in fact even the taped broadcast was almost blocked by her Mother Superior. She underscored her aversion for the limelight in 1967 by releasing the album I Am Not a Star. Her successful single did not endear her to the Dominicans' Mother Superior, who viewed the popular song as "impertinent." It probably didn't help matters when MGM based a musical on her life in 1965 and cast "Debbie Reynolds" as a moped-riding nun who was romantically drawn to Chad Everett. That same year, the Singing Nun withdrew from the public eye and gave up her burgeoning musical career. By 1966, she had a complete change of heart, returned to music, and quit the convent. After the release of I Am Not a Star, her music tackled controversial subjects. "The Golden Pill" concerned the issue of birth control pills, of which she was in favor and the Pope condemned. Together with a woman named Annie Pescher in Belgium, she founded a school for children who suffered from the disability of autism. Unfortunately, her previous success in music did not bring lasting happiness. In fact, it added to her troubles. The Singing Nun and Pescher took their lives in 1985 with a combination of pills and alcohol when the government ordered her to pay back taxes amounting to more than 60,000 dollars which accrued from her time as a singer and recording artist. The demand, which put their school in jeopardy, came despite the fact that the Singing Nun had given all profits to her order. ~ Linda Seida

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