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Soeur Sourire Sings 'Dominique': The Original 'Singing Nun' Who Won Audience's Hearts Half A Century Ago

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SOEUR SOURIRE
Belgian nun Sister Luc Gabrielle plays her guitar while singing happy songs about religion, December 30, 1963. Her records carrying only her nickname, Soeur Sourire, Sister Smile, are big sellers and radio favourites on both sides of the Atlantic, with proceeds going to her convent, in Fichermont, near Brussels. (AP Photo) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Long before the 25-year-old Sister Cristina Scuccia ever stepped foot on The Voice of Italy, there was another singing nun who won the hearts of thousands around the world. Her story is more somber than that of the young Italian nun, but her voice was no less mesmerizing.

Born Jeanine Deckers in 1933, Soeur Sourire (or Sister Smile) was a Belgian Dominican nun who had a talent for singing and song writing. She began her musical career by playing for her fellow sisters at her convent in Waterloo, Belgium.

Encouraged by her superiors, Deckers decided to record some of her songs with the Philips Recording Studio in 1961, and two years later her hit "Dominique" skyrocketed to the top of the U.S. Billboard charts. It remained at the top for four weeks and sold more than a million copies worldwide.

Deckers became a celebrity almost overnight and would go on to appear via tape on the Ed Sullivan Show and see her life turned into a 1966 biopic starring Debbie Reynolds. Despite her success, Deckers actually made very little money on her hit record and was reportedly displeased with the film adaptation of her life.

Deckers' musical career plummeted after her initial success, and her relationship with her superiors also deteriorated. She developed increasingly counter-Catholic sentiments and ultimately left her convent to attempt to open a school for autistic children.

The retired Soeur Sourire tragically committed suicide in 1985 along with her partner of ten years, Annie Pécher. She had continued playing music until her death, though, even recording a disco version of her 1963 hit.

Despite Deckers' suffering and tragic end, her beautiful voice lives on in the sweet "Dominique" that once captivated audiences around the world.

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