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Belgian singer/songwriter/guitarist Soeur Sourire, known in the English-speaking world as the Singing Nun, was born Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers in Brussels on October 17, 1933, where she was also raised. She attended the University of Louvain and became an art teacher before joining the Dominican order in 1954, under whose service she would eventually trade her name, Jeannine Deckers, for Sister Luc-Gabrielle, a name derived from her parents' names, Lucien and Gabrielle. While in the convent, Sister Luc-Gabrielle penned a number of tunes, and with the support of her fellow nuns, she booked some time at the Phillips recording studio with the intent of giving away her songs as part of their missionary work, but upon hearing the recordings, Phillips offered Sister Luc-Gabrielle a contract and dubbed her Soeur Sourire ("Sister Smile").
The commercial appeal Phillips saw in Soeur Sourire was shared by Europe when her first single, an homage to St. Dominic titled "Dominique," dominated the charts in 1963. In fact, it did so well that Phillips released the single in the States. Upon its release, "Dominique" rose in the U.S. charts and hit number one, marking Soeur Sourire (known in the U.S. as the Singing Nun) as the only Belgian to hit number one in the U.S. "Dominique" sold so well that it stayed at the top of the charts for ten weeks, kept "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen from reaching the top, at one point outsold Elvis Presley, and even led to a taped appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
The success of "Dominique" led to a 1965 Hollywood musical titled The Singing Nun, very loosely based on Soeur Sourire, starring Debbie Reynolds and Chad Everett. But her sudden fame was more than she could handle, and in 1965 Soeur Sourire left the limelight for the shelter of the convent. After only one year away from music, however, Soeur Sourire announced her plans to leave the convent and resume her life as a musician, dropping the name Soeur Sourire (which she had always used reluctantly) and adopting yet another moniker, Luc Dominique. She used her given name, Jeannine Deckers, when offstage. At this point, Deckers reunited with a close friend from her college days, Annie Pescher, and shocked her followers with her political song in favor of birth control, "Glory Be to God for the Golden Pill." She further alienated supporters by embracing radical stances and by her openly gay lifestyle with Prescher. Deckers and Prescher later opened a school for autistic children which they ran together through the '70s, but in the early '80s, the Belgium government informed Deckers that she owed over $60,000 in taxes on the profits of "Dominique." Since Deckers had donated all of the earnings from "Dominique" to her convent, she had no money to pay the fee. She became addicted to alcohol and pills, and played shows to try and pay off her debt, but when the government threatened to close the school, Deckers and Prescher wrote letters to their family and friends, then committed suicide together on March 29, 1985 via a mixture of barbiturates and alcohol.
Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers