Since the beginning of the rock era, there have only been seven songs that topped the charts that are sung completely in a foreign language. (And that counts one that was number one just this summer of 2017.) So far, I have covered two of them, “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu” (also known as “Volare”) which hit number one in 1958 sung by Domenico Modugno in Italian. Then came “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto which hit number one earlier in 1963, sung in Japanese. Now comes the third song sung in a foreign language, “Dominique” by the Singing Nun sung in French.
The story of how “Dominique” came to be is a fascinating one. In 1961, two nuns from a nearby convent pulled up in front of Philips Records in Brussels, Belgium. They asked if they might be allowed to record a few songs on their equipment and produce a recording that they could give away as gifts. The people at Philips told them they were much too busy to accommodate the nuns and sent them away. Several months later, the nuns returned to Philips and asked again if they might record their songs. This time, they let them in and the nuns went to work. One of those nuns was named Sister Luc-Gabrielle. Her real name was Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers and she was born in 1933 in Brussels. She entered the convent in 1959 and took the name of Sister Luc-Gabrielle.
Sister Luc-Gabrielle could sing and play the guitar and would entertain the other women in the order with her music. When she and her friend recorded the songs in Philips studio, the people started listening and realized they might have something. So, Philips Records got permission from the diocese and released an album of the nuns music. One of the songs on that album was “Dominique.”
“Dominique” tells the story of the founder of the Dominican Order. It was written by Sister Luc-Gabrielle and when the song was released, it made her an instant celebrity. She started giving concerts and even appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in early 1964. “Dominique” was the first and, I believe, still is the only song from a Belgian singer to reach number one in the United States. Of course, it also reached number one in many other countries.
But fame was hard to handle for a nun who has taken certain vows. Sister Luc-Gabrielle had trouble being a star and being a nun and soon left the order to enter civilian life. She continued to record, but never had another hit, being a true one-hit wonder. In 1966, Debbie Reynolds played her in a movie called The Singing Nun which was supposed to based on her life. Sister Luc-Gabrielle said it was mostly fiction.
Sadly, after leaving the convent, she had a rough life, fighting the church on many issues, the main one being birth control. She even recorded a song called “Glory Be to God for the Golden Pill” which was the birth control pill. After leaving the convent, she met up with an old friend from her youth named Annie Pecher and the two moved in together and were friends and, perhaps lovers, until on March 29, 1985, they both took an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol, taking their lives. They only asked that they be buried together, which they were. This ended the sad life of the Singing Nun.
“Dominique” entered the pop charts on November 16, 1963 and spent the last four weeks of 1963 at number one, making it the last number one of 1963.