Soeur Sourire

The Singing Nun

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Although remembered more for the sake of novelty than any significant musical or social contribution, the Singing Nun, aka Soeur Sourire (translated as "Sister Smile"), became a folk hero to Americans in late 1963 and early 1964. Her one-hit wonder, "Dominique," interjected some much-needed innocence to a nation grieving the loss of its president. The entire album presents Sourire in a musically multicultural setting, accompanying herself on acoustic Spanish guitar (which she called "Sister Adele") while singing in French. The long-player as well as the song both shot to the top of the pop music charts during the second week of November 1963, with the album remaining in the top position for ten weeks -- eventually being dethroned by Meet the Beatles on February 15, 1964. Known prior to international stardom as Sister Luc-Gabrielle, the songs she shared became so popular with locals visiting the Belgian Fichermont Convent that they were initially recorded with the intention of giving the records away to friends and guests. The enormously infectious charm of the tunes immediately won over not only the record company, but also the buying public. So successful was Soeur Sourire in her native Europe that Phillips Records began importing the disc to North America. The stateside response was equally as staggering, prompting a highly controversial -- by papal standards anyway -- appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on January 5, 1964. Her interminably effervescent delivery and simple melodies make it easy to rationalize her effect on those souls confused and dismayed by recent world events. Several of the tunes found on The Singing Nun incorporate a small female chorus, to great effect. "Dominique," "Cactus Flower," and "All the Paths" are among those enhanced, inducing a more interactive and singalong-friendly environment. Soeur Sourire's musical gifts are undeniable and phonetically so well written and conveyed that the language barrier becomes reduced to the point of irrelevance. As might be anticipated, the material on The Singing Nun is sacred in content. However, when interviewed decades later -- after returning to a secular life as well as to her birth name, Jeanine Deckers -- it was revealed that her best-known composition was written as a decidedly snide ode to St. Dominic, creator and spiritual figurehead of her one-time monastic order. The Singing Nun was issued on CD in 1998 by Collectors' Choice Music, and the expanded 14-page liner notes booklet incorporates much of the original packaging, including the nine-panel storybook and illustrations and the translated lyric sheet.

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