From the perspective of the American pop charts, December 1963 was, as the Four Seasons would later sing, a very special time indeed. The previous month, pop radio stations around the country had briefly gone dark out of respect for the late President John F. Kennedy following his assassination in Dallas on November 22. The following month, those same stations would begin broadcasting, nearly nonstop, the first sounds of a coming revolution, as the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” hit American shores on January 13. Perhaps only during the unique moment in pop-music history that fell between those historic landmarks could an actual Belgian nun have ascended to the American pop charts with a jaunty tune about a Catholic saint—sung in French, no less. That’s exactly what happened on this day in 1963, when Soeu Sourire—billed in English as “The Singing Nun”—scored a #1 hit with the song “Dominique.”
“Domnique” was recorded in early 1963 in Brussels, Belgium, by Sister Luc-Gabrielle (nee Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers) and four companions from the Dominican convent in nearby Fichermont. Originally a vanity pressing intended only for distribution as gifts among their fellow nuns, the album of light, religious-themed tunes recorded by the Fichermont nuns was impressive enough to Phillips Records executives that it was released commercially in Europe shortly thereafter. Already a huge hit on the continent, the album and its lead artist were re-christened as “The Singing Nun” prior to crossing the Atlantic in the fall of 1963. “Dominique”—a song honoring St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominican order—proved popular enough not only to hit #1 on this day in 1963, but to stay there for four weeks and block “Louie, Louie” from ever reaching the top of the pop charts.
Though the 1966 Debby Reynolds movie of the same name would do little to indicate it, the Singing Nun went on to live a deep, complex and ultimately tragic life. After achieving pop immortality, Deckers walked away from stardom and from her church and adopted a new stage name: Luc Dominique. An unsuccessful album honoring the birth control pill was the highlight of Deckers’ post-Singing Nun career, however. She also attempted a comeback in 1982 with a disco version of “Dominique” that failed to catch on as the original had back in 1963. Deckers’ career and life ended tragically in 1985, when she and her longtime female companion committed suicide in the face of a massive tax bill from the Belgian government relating to unpaid taxes on royalties that Deckers had donated in full to the Roman Catholic Church.