In December of 1963, the "British Invasion" of the American music scene was still several months in the future. The Beatles, who would start that invasion, were growing in popularity, just ending a 292 performance run in August at a popular Liverpool nightclub called "The Cavern Club." In 1964, they would be taking the USA by storm and the music scene would never be the same.
But in late November, 1963, the U.S. President was assassinated, and the country was in a somber mood. Radio disk jockeys were playing slower tunes in the mix, toning down the rock and roll until the country's mood changed again. One of the beneficiaries of this inclination to play slower music was an odd tune by the name of "Dominique."
"Dominique" entered the play lists at about the time of Kennedy's assassination, and suddenly simply exploded. Almost immediately, on December 1, the song topped the U.S. music charts and stayed there pegged hard at number one for 4 solid weeks, only dropping off the first week in January, 1964.
"Dominique" is still the only record to hit number one in the USA by a performer from Belgium. (25 years later, in 1989, a Belgian group made number 2, but still no more number ones.)
The song had a catchy tune and was fun to listen to, though a bit monotonous, but the real oddity was that most Americans couldn't understand it because it was sung in French. So it is a testament to the tune itself that the song made it to number one.
Those of you who remember that far back or who happen to be music collectors will know, of course, that the song was a solo - just a woman with a sweet voice singing and playing her guitar. Adding to the novelty was the fact that the Belgian lady with the sweet voice singing in French and playing her guitar was a Catholic Dominican nun, Sister Luc Gabriel. She was promptly dubbed "The Singing Nun."
She had no other records that sold well, and she was promptly forgotten. You forgot her. I forgot her. The world mostly forgot her. A couple years later, a movie was made, supposedly of her life, starring Debbie Reynolds, which the Sister quickly dismissed as simply "fiction."
But here, as the recently late (and missed) Paul Harvey would say, is "The Rest of the Story."
Jeanine Deckers, Sister Luc Gabriel's real name, was born in Brussels in 1933 and worked as a school teacher before becoming a nun and joining the Dominicans. She broke off an engagement to become a nun, and was only 20 years old at the time she entered a convent in Waterloo, Belgium.
She was a good singer and entertained friends, and the other sisters at the convent, by singing and playing her guitar. She wrote songs, and one of them, "Dominique" was especially liked, and the Sisters encouraged her to record the song.
Soeur Sourire ("Sister Smile") as The Singing Nun was known in Europe, was very religious indeed (as you might imagine) and was not that interested in making a recording of the song. But at the other Sisters' continued insistence, she finally did pay a recording studio out of her own pocket to record the song, buying a few records for her friends.
This sort of reminds me of the young truck driver Elvis Presley paying to record a song for his Momma in Memphis 10 years earlier. But I can't think of any more parallels other than they both had to pay to get recorded.
But her record got out and got played and she was a smash in Europe, and, soon, in the USA as well. She even taped an Ed Sullivan show, as the Beatles were to do later.
She gave all the money (a really lot of money) to the convent.
Soeur Sourire was very devout, very earnest in her religion, as stated earlier, but she was becoming more and more disenchanted with some of the Catholic church's conservative teachings, especially on birth control. She became more and more vocal and opinionated. Nuns are supposed to just shut up and pray. Her convent kicked her out. Or, as the bio goes, "She left the convent." Thanks for all the money. Goodbye.
Now Jeanine Deckers again, on the street, no income. She moved in with a childhood friend, Annie Petcher. Only they know if they were lovers, but they would remain together from then on.
Deckers released a second album in 1967, entitled "I am not a star in heaven" recorded under her new professional name, Luc Dominique. It didn't sell. The novelty of a singing nun was over. A song on that album included the lyrics, "Sister Smile is dead. God is the only star." Another song praised contraception.
She took her increasing militancy on the road, a concert tour of Canada and the United State. The tour did not do well.
She wrote a book of inspirational quotes, "Vivre Sa Verite." The book did not do well.
In 1968, sans a realistic musical career, Deckers and her friend opened a school for autistic children.
In this time period, Deckers received a present from the Belgian Government: a tax bill for (approximately) US$50,000. They claimed she owed taxes on money received for "Dominique."
She protested that all the proceeds had gone to the convent, and were therefore tax exempt. But there were no records, no receipts. A nun trusts her Mother Superior. The court said she owed the money. She didn't have any money.
Just to keep her mind permanently fearful, the court case dragged on until 1982. She lost. During this time she entered a deep depression that was never to leave her. The depression deepened. She became addicted to alchohol and other drugs. She suffered nervous breakdowns.
Desperate to raise money, she gave art lessons and guitar lessons while helping Annie run the school. She released an updated disco version of "Dominique," along with a video. I like the disco version, though not as clean and pure as the original. Nobody else did.
Expenses forced their school to close. Deckers was fired from her other teaching job.
The two of them struggled from day to day for another two years.
On March 29, 1985, they committed suicide together.
Annie and The Singing Nun are buried together.
"Am I a failure? I try to stay honest with myself. To look for the truth, and try to question everything in my life...
"Ten years ago I would have said I was a loser. Now I don't think in terms of losing or winning...
Life is a continuum. You're constantly on your way. One day I feel good, the next I feel bad. Altogether it's bearable.
"Would I do it all over again? That's not a good question. You can't. You can't do it all over again. Voila"
From Annie Pecher's portion of the jointly-authored suicide note:
"Jeanine... is in constant depression and only lives for me. I live for her. That can't go on.
"We do suffer really too much... We have no more place in life, no ideal except God, but we can't eat that.
"We go to eternity in peace. We trust God will forgive us. He saw us both suffer and he won't let us down.
"It would please Jeanine not to die for the world.
"She had a hard time on earth.
"She deserves to live in the minds of people."
Listen to the 1963 non-disco Dominique here (This is not the solo version.)
The disco version with her video is on YouTube. Everything is on YouTube.
iTunes has the solo version available for download for 99 cents. I got it.
A footnote: In what is perhaps one of the most ironic things of all time, on the very day of her suicide, the Belgian courts awarded The Singing Nun US$300,000 in royalties for composing "Dominique." That would have been enough to take care of her meager needs for life. But she no longer had a life that day.
Dominique, nique, nique, over the land he plods
And sings a little song
Never asking for reward
He just talks about the Lord
He just talks about the Lord
At a time when Johnny Lackland
Over England was the King
Dominique was in the backland
Fighting sin like anything
Now a heretic, one day
Among the thorns forced him to crawl
Dominique with just one prayer
Made him hear the good Lord's call
Without horse or fancy wagon
He crossed Europe up and down
Poverty was his companion
As he walked from town to town
To bring back the straying liars
And the lost sheep to the fold
He brought forth the Preaching Friars
Heaven's soldier's, brave and bold
One day, in the budding Order
There was nothing left to eat
Suddenly two angels walked in
With a loaf of bread and meat
Dominique once, in his slumber
Saw the Virgin's coat unfurled
Over Frairs without number
Preaching all around the world
Grant us now, oh Dominique
The grace of love and simple mirth
That we all may help to quicken
Godly life and truth on earth
Dominique, nique, nique s'en allait tout simplement
Routier pauvre et chantant
En tous chemins, en tous lieux, il ne parle que du bon Dieu
Il ne parle que du bon Dieu
A l'e poque ou Jean-sans-Terre de' Angleterre etait Roi
Dominique, notre Pere, combattit les Albigeois
Repeat first 4 lines: Chorus
Ni chameau, ni diligence il parcout l'Europe a pied
Scandinavie ou Provence dans la sainte pauvrete
Enflamma de toute ecole filles et garcons pleins d'ardeur
Et pour semer la Parole inventa les Freres-Precheurs
Chez Dominique et ses freres le pain s'en vint a manquer
Et deux anges se presenterent portant de grands pains dores
Dominique vit en reve les precheurs du monde entier
Sous le manteau de la Vierge en grand nombre rassembles
Dominique, mon bon Pere, garde-nous simples et gais
Pour annoncer a nos freres la Vie et la Verite