Arts, Culture & Media

Here's the music that Americans wanted to hear after JFK's death

Music has the power to distract, pacify and soothe.

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Norah Jones delivered the calming voice after 9/11. But in 1963, after John F. Kennedy's death, it was a Belgian nun, singing a song in French, who soothed the nation and topped the music charts.

"That's what people needed at the time. Just something to enjoy without a lot of complications," said Deb Chadwick, author of the book, The Singing Nun Story.

"People needed some hope and it made people happy. And the nuns singing the song made them happy. People saw the Kennedys as a Camelot. They really were planning on a bright future and it was such a shock when he got assassinated. Anything simple and sweet, people seemed to really like."

The Singing Nun's real name was Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers, from Brussels. On stage, she went by Soeur Sourire, or Sister Smile.

"Dominque" was recorded in 1961, but it didn't become a huge international hit until Kennedy's death. The song and the singer became cultural icons.

"Dominque" hit the charts in 11 countries and topped the US charts for four weeks. The song was translated into many languages, including Dutch, German, Hebrew and Japanese.

And it wasn't just the melody that connected with people. There was something about the person the song was about, Chadwick says.

"It's about Dominic, the founder of the Dominicans. And talks about him traveling around the world, living in poverty, just trying to help people and serve God."

Chadwick says listeners everywhere made a connection between this Spanish-born priest from the 13th century and President Kennedy.

"You know, he wasn't afraid to stand up for what was right, either. And that's very much like Dominic," she says.

The singing nun, Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers, never again achieved the stardom she had in the wake of Kennedy's assassination. She tried to revive her career with a disco version of the song, but it went nowhere.

Sadly, Deckers committed suicide in 1985.