You may know the song “A Boy Named Sue,” by Johnny Cash. It’s about a boy who seeks revenge against his father for giving him a traditional girl’s name. But did you know Shel Silverstein is the father of A Boy Named Sue? No, not the biological father, but the person who wrote the lyrics.
How is Shel Silverstein the Father of A Boy Named Sue?
According to a history of the song by The Capital Repertory Theater (cited below):
“In 1969, it was a guitar pull – a get together where songwriters try out new songs – that brought together Cash and renowned children’s book author Shel Silverstein. The guest list for the gathering also included Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, but it was Silverstein who shined with his song which centered around a man named Sue, whose long-sought revenge on his father for giving him a girl’s name ends in a bar fight and ultimately understanding.”
Silverstein is a beloved children’s author, and the lyrics are unlike anything else he wrote. He was inspired by a friend named Jean Shepherd who was made fun of as a child for his feminine-sounding name.
Silverstein wrote a follow-up named “The Father of a Boy Named Sue” from the father’s point of view.
The debut Sue
Cash even played the song at the White House (for Nixon) and on his show next to the lyricist/poet himself. But the first debut of the song was at Cash’s iconic show at San Quentin Prison in California.
It was June Carter Cash who convinced him to try out the song on his tough audience. But Cash didn’t quite know the lyrics yet. He read them off a piece of paper. In fact, you can hear him laughing along with the audience on the track.
Not only did his prison audience love it, but the song also became a national hit, climbing to number 2 on the charts. — WTF fun facts