The Singing Nun
She became internationally famous in 1963 with her smash hit Dominique, and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in early January of the next year. I happened to be attending a Catholic grade school at the time and still remember “The Singing Nun.”
She was known in her native Belgium as Soeur Sourire, “Sister Smile.” Wearing her full flowing nun’s habit strumming her acoustic guitar, she represented well the innocent early sixties. Little did any of us know when the song came out that those days would soon end forever. Until then, we were idealistic and sheltered, and the Singing Nun added to that mystique in the short time she was famous. She was certainly a hit with Catholics, and at my school in particular.
It was a good song, I guess, though we had no idea what she was singing about. The foreign flavor of her accent was not necessarily a new thing to us Catholic kids, since we were taught by heavily-accented Irish nuns who still used words like “Ye.” (I remember one kid asking, “Who’s Ye?”) I had forgotten about the song until something reminded me a few weeks ago, and the catchy tune came back to me very clearly, almost fifty years later. Today, on a whim, I decided to see if there was a video of the song retrievable on the net and was surprised at what I found. I listened once again and did a little research into her life.
Her real name was Jeanine Deckers. I discovered that the profits of the song she wrote were divvied up between her convent and the record producer, who retained the rights. She was an international star but received nothing since her life was dedicated to her order. A movie was made starring Debbie Reynolds, which Jeanine claimed was pure fiction. She eventually left her order and the Catholic Church entirely. Her worldview changed. She tried hard to make it as a singer but was forever a one-hit wonder. Though she had a very promising start and continued in charitable causes, life later dealt her a very bad hand.
There is no doubt that she had grown very disillusioned early on. The song was rightfully hers and maintaining at least some of the control and profits could have substantially changed her life. In 1982, in an effort to pay off substantial debts, the former Singing Nun created a video using a heavily synthesized version of the song. I laughed out loud when I heard it, but that was before I knew the circumstances. I then realized the setting was eerily fitting.
Three years later, at 51 years of age, she committed suicide.
© 2011 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.
Posted on September 12, 2011, in Teaching and tagged Belgium, Catholic Church, Dominique, Singing Nun, Sister Smile, Soeur Sourire, The Ed Sullivan Show. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.
What a sad end to a life that God filled with so much promise and talent. I remember this song with fondness. While I grew up a “good Baptist girl” and a product of our government schools, this song was one of my favorites too. Thanks for the reminder of a song that was a hallmark of more innocent times. We forget just how powerful music is in our lives.
I found the English translation of the song….I had no idea. The lyrics make an interesting story and speak to my heart….I just can’t help talking about the Lord.
Thanks for sharing. Your words are enlightening and challenge my thoughts. How could a person with so much joy for the Lord become isolated to the point of suicide? Where were her friends, her encouragers?
DOMINIQUE (In the Key of G)
Dominique, nique nique
Over the land he plods along
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
Dominiqu’ 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 soldiers, brave and bold
One day in the budding order,
There was nothing left to eat,
Suddenly two angels walked in
With a load of bread and meat
Dominique once in his slumber
Saw the Virgin’s coat unfurled
Over friars 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
I was somewhat concerned about ending this post the way I did, but I felt I had to make a point. I was asked about what we should learn from this. What’s the take away? That is an excellent question, and I am glad it was brought up.
Normally, one wants to end such an article with a lesson point or at least on an attempted high note, and to give some hope. But the reality is that my short article ended the way the life of the Singing Nun ended. This young girl started out in life with joy and energy, and her gift from God revealed itself to the world. How unlikely it was for a very young nun from a Belgium convent to suddenly be world famous.
But she was taken advantage of by both the record producer and her own convent and church authorities, meaning she was used and abused before she even knew it. She had put her trust in the wrong people. Her life story was essentially stolen by Hollywood. Who could she trust? Much later in life government authorities made her liable for taxes on royalties which she never even received. Still, she keeps singing a song about hope and Christian themes, as reflected in the English translation above.
At the end there was nobody in her corner. The video features an old ruined cathedral which represents not only the ruin of her life, but the deadness of a group that never came to her defense but instead used her and rejected her. Sister Smile developed a frown of sorts and who can blame her? But she soldiered on in probably the best way she knew how. The take away is that unreal Christianity, in whatever denominational form it may take, will use you up and throw you away. Beware putting your trust in anyone other than the Lord Jesus. It is my hope He was with her in the end, though her pain was obviously great.
Reading this after I read your post on “The Cleansing Blood” that came later; I can see the connection….in the end, all she had was JESUS.
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