Friday, September 14, 2007

The Singing Nun - Dominique 1982

Grab a hankie.

Here it is - - the saddest 45 single ever created.

Not merely because it's a disco remake of the 1963 song hit 'Dominique', but because of where it fits in the tragic story of its creator, Jeanine Deckers, a.k.a. Soeur Sourire
('Sister Smile'), best
remembered as The Singing Nun.

Often bordering close to the territory of urban myth, and with a bountiful variety of slight misinformation readily available, her story goes something like this...

Born in Brussels in 1933, by the age of 20 Jeanine Deckers worked as a high school art teacher. Within the next few years she studied art, played guitar, and broke off an engagement to be married.

In 1959 she became a Dominican nun and entered the Fichermont Convent in Waterloo, Belgium, taking the name Sister Luc Gabriel.

She entertained locals and her fellow Sisters playing guitar and singing songs she'd written.

After composing 'Dominique', she was encouraged by her co-sisters to record the song.
She reluctantly agreed, and payed for the sessions so she could give out copies of the record as gifts.

The recording fell under the notice of executives at Phillips Records who in 1962 signed her to a recording contract and concocted the name Soeur Sourire ('Sister Smile').
Sister Luc Gabriel reluctantly agreed to the name, and turned all her profits from the record over to her convent.

By 1963 the record had become a huge hit in the USA and elsewhere.

Uncomfortable with fame, she reluctantly gave concerts and agreed to tape a performance for a 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

In 1966, 'The Singing Nun', a movie about her starring Debbie Reynolds was released.
Sister Luc Gabriel dismissed the film as 'fiction'.
By this time she had stopped performing, to concentrate more fully on a devotional life.

Although very religious, she began to find fault in the conservatism of the Roman Catholic Church, and especially their stance on birth control.
Also, in 1966 she had spoken out in agreement with John Lennon on his controversial remark about The Beatles then being "more popular than Jesus".

By this time she was receiving flak from her Mother Superior and the powers-that-be, and though the convent had started the ball rolling, they'd never been too comfortable with the attention brought by her musical career.

In 1967, she had left the convent, resumed her musical career, (most of her proceeds still going to the convent) and had moved in with a childhood friend, Annie Pécher.
Jeanine Deckers and Annie Pécher would remain companions from then on, though it is not 'officially' known if they were lovers.

Deckers had already subsided into relative obscurity when she released her second LP in 1967,
'I Am Not a Star in Heaven', now recording under the professional name of Luc Dominique.

It seems that one of the stipulations she'd signed off on upon leaving her convent may have been giving up the name of 'Soeur Sourire'.
In an act of further distancing, it appears that the convent demanded that official records of her affiliation with them be expunged.

That 1967 album included a song that stated "...Sister Smile is dead, God is the only star...", as well as a controversial song praising contraception; ‘La Pilule d’Or’
(..."Glory Be to God for the Golden Pill").
The album didn't sell well.

She had a variety of new, more militant anti-establishment and church-critical songs that she then took with her on a concert tour of the US and Canada.
The tour did not do well.

Her 1968 book of inspirational passages, 'Vivre Sa Verite' did not sell well.

In 1968, her musical career fairly well finished, Jeanine Deckers and Annie Pécher opened a school for autistic children.

It was around this same time that Deckers was hit with a tax bill for her proceeds from 'Dominique' and her first album.
The Belgian government claimed that she owed them somewhere in the neighborhood of US $50,000 -
US $80,000 in back taxes (the quoted amount varies).

Jeanine countered that all the profits went to the convent, thus making her exempt.
As no receipts or record could be produced, the Belgian tax authorities ruled that she was to be held responsible for the debt.
The ensuing court case, which Jeanine would eventually lose, continued until 1982.

Sometime during this period she developed problems with drug and alcohol addiction, in addition to bouts of severe depression and nervous breakdowns.

She did begin painting again, and to help raise money she started teaching art and giving guitar lessons while helping Annie to run the school.

By the early '80s, as expenses mounted, in a last-ditch attempt to raise money she was convinced to make a Singing Nun 'comeback' record, giving her hit 'Dominique' a modern spin.

The revival project included a promotional music video...

The 'comeback' 45 did not do well.

The court case was lost.
Expenses forced Annie to close the school for autistic children.
Jeanine soon was fired from her teaching job.

The two struggled along for a couple of more years, but on March 29, 1985 they each took an overdose of pills and alcohol at their apartment in Wavre, Belgium, as part of a suicide pact.

Jeanine and Annie 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"

- - Jeanine Deckers

"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."

- - Annie Pécher, from Jeanine and Annie's suicide note, 1985

See also:

- Notes and audio accompanying a 'best of' album at CD Baby

- More info and many photographs at:
D.A. Chadwick's Soeur Sourire website

Listen to: The Singing Nun - Dominique (1982)
Scalp Records 45 (1982)
(click for audio)

Listen to: The Singing Nun - Dominique (electronique-nique-nique)
Scalp Records 45 (1982)
(click for audio)

ADDENDUM, 1.25.09: A comment to this post cites a recent addition to the Wikipedia entry for
Jeanine Deckers that makes for a poignant postscript:
"In a great irony, the very day of her suicide and unknown to her, the Belgian association that collects royalties for songwriters (SABAM) awarded her approximately $300,000 (571,658 Belgian francs)
- - more than enough to have paid off her debt and provide for her."


Gavin Elster said...

Thank you for posting this.

Jay said...

wow that sounds sad..

Anonymous said...

Bloody hell man!! What a downer, but proving again the old adage: No good deed goes unpunished.

Anonymous said...

Soeur Sourire and her music will surely live on in my mind, for one. "Dominique" and the flip side "Entre les etoiles" were my favourite song when I was three, and something in her voice still is with me after all these years. Love, Christian

Anonymous said...

I'd be more comfortable with this account IF
[1] I knew for certain whether she was precisely a nun (cloistered monastic) in the Second Order of Dominicans, who "never" leave their walls without exceptional dispensation, or precisely a Sister (Third Order Regular of Dominicans) who go about in the secular world, teaching or ministering in some other way.
[2] I could FIND Fichermont Convent of Dominican "sisters" in Belgium; but I cannot (under that name)
[3] If I could find any Monastery of Dominican "nuns" in Belgium; but I cannot.
[4] If I could find any such reference (to nuns OR sisters or monasteries or convents in Belgium) on the official website of the Dominican Order -- a global site with information about Dominican Fathers, Brothers, Nuns, Sisters, and Lay Dominicans. I don't mean identification of Jeanine herself, but identification of such an institution in which she is alleged to have lived. Again, I cannot find any such information.

Anonymous said...

Here is a site with all the Dominican (female) cloisters in Belgium.

In Dutch the sisters are called: Dominicanessen. That's why you didn't find them, probably.


Anonymous said...

once again a wonderful thinking woman, getting punished by the church .if she had stayed a nun and made money for the church , she would have been made a saint by the church.
she gave joy to so many. i hope she knew that.
as far as i am concerned she lived her life with strength and dignity, and used her own mind. any money made from her records should go to her relatives, but it is probably being used to getting the priests out of hot water.

Anonymous said...

Great story. Amazing women. Wisdom and strength.

Anonymous said...

Indeed a woman of love, even great love and devotion to God and mankind. She left a legacy of beautiful melodies and her angelic voice of praise, humor and sensibilities. What is truly sad and of great loss is that religion doesn't cut it; viz: doesn't empower one to a live pure, godly or "successful" life. It is the relationship with God that gives both joy and strength to live in His wisdom. It is His Son Christ Jesus that gives intimacy and compassion to us to pass on to others. But what religion too often lacks is this wisdom which is so accessible to us in free nations and is embodied in written form. How tragic that lives are destroyed for lack of it in application. It's not about church or being right; the Bible is about having God's strength and promises so we don't destroy ourselves or let others destroy us when we are attacked. Only God gives love and words that live forever and never fail. Only Jesus gives joy in spite of any horrors of life. Only God's promises are true to those who trust and believe Him and His Son. He doesn't lie; people do. You can't apply promises you don't believe or even know exist. Often religion washes down God's alive and empowering Word. Man replaces it with rituals and regulations, just as did the Pharisees milleniums ago and on thru today's legalistic religions based on man's words, instead of God's. He created the universe with His Words; yet He put in one book by one Spirit and many writers His greatest masterpiece: His written words of life and power. And Christ is His living Word. He resides in each one who believes and LIVES by it to overcome every horror. Others deny and reject God's written Word, while many of us are proving its power all over the planet. Not man-made religion, but God's precepts studied, believed and lived set us free and make us superconquerors.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to thank you for telling this very sad story in such a straightforward even-handed manner. I really appreciate the way you respectfully declined to impose any agenda onto it.
Great blog, btw.

Anonymous said... a 8 year old boy just getting into music...I remember distinctly the song, the voice and the feeling of goodness propogated by its popularity...she sounded like I thought an Angel might...I had not thought of this song for decades until I caught a news flash of the "singing nun" saga in China, since I travel there often...I did a "where are they now" type search on JD and was completely destroyed about the end that she met...GOD will forgive her...

Anonymous said...

I just started watching the movie tonight which I had not seen since it came out in '67 or so. I found her story so interesting and the song "Dominique" so beautiful. I was excited to watch her performance then on the Ed Sullivan Show. She was great!

Now, 40 years later, I am truly and deeply saddened at how the church and convent had treated her. Even more so, it is disgusting that the "state" drove her to suicide over tax money she likely did not owe under the circumstances. I agree with an earlier comment, "No good deed goes unpunished." She was full of good deeds and suffered immensely for no good reason. May God bless her.

Anonymous said...

This is indeed a sad story and I agree that she was treated unfairly. I just read the Wikipedia entry for Ms Deckers where it states, "In a great irony, the very day of her suicide and unknown to her, the Belgian association that collects royalties for songwriters (SABAM) awarded her approximately $300,000 (571,658 Belgian francs)-- more than enough to pay off her $65,000 debt (99,000 Belgian francs) and provide for her."

Something Weird said...

WOW - this is very haunting!

And to think that she would have recieved $300,000 on the day she committed suicide is really really sad

Earthlinker said...

My Sister Luc Gabriel find the peace that she so desperately was seeking on earth.
Too Bad that the Belgian tax man is learning from the American tax man - screw the truth - we will make it up later - just gimme the CASH - NOW!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I was allowed to name my first grandchild and I named her Dominique, which means 'Gift from Heaven.' In many hearts as mine, Ms. Deckers is not a failure, through all her suffering she did not lose faith. She is a champion and I know God has forgiven her, He has reclaimed His Gift. God Bless Jeanine.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This woman deserves a life in heaven. So heartbreaking to see her meet her end under such depressing circumstances...I'm not Christian, but this woman was truly blessed and blessed all those around her through her music.

Anonymous said...

From the beginning, he was a murderer and a liar, said the Lord!
This minion of Satan wanted to REFORM? what God has created?
Give me a break!
May God have pity on her (his) soul and of all those she got astray!
St. Domenique, pray for us!

Melanie said...

Amen! She brought joy to so many people- through both her music and her life. She was a great woman. It breaks my heart to think of her dying in such profound unhappiness and despair that she took her own life. :'(
I have loved her music all my life.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written! <3 Inspirational. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

How nice that she donated to her so called church, yet they left her high n dry when she needed help, how typical !!

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