To Americans of all ages, Shel Silverstein is a beloved cartoonist, poet and author of The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends and more. But to fans of country, folk and rock music, he's also a prolific songwriter who gave the world Loretta Lynn's "One's on the Way" and "Hey Loretta," Emmylou Harris' "Queen of the Silver Dollar," Bobby Bare's "Marie Laveau" and countless other songs. But perhaps Silverstein's best known tune is Johnny Cash's timeless "A Boy Named Sue."
Silverstein was inspired to write the song by his friend Jean Shepherd, who was teased as a child for having what some perceived to be a "girl's name." Silverstein recorded the tune for his 1969 album Boy Named Sue and His Other Country Songs.
Cash first heard the song at a guitar pull and was encouraged to record it his by his wife June Carter Cash. But the first time the Man in Black performed the song was during his performance at San Quentin. The song went on to be a No. 1 hit for Cash and remains one of his best known tunes.
See Cash and Silverstein perform the song below.
What you may not know is that Silverstein wrote a sequel of sorts for "A Boy Named Sue" that tells the story from the old man's point of view.
"Father of a Boy Named Sue," included on Silverstein's Songs and Stories, is more controversial than its predecessors to say the least. It doesn't exactly have the same heartwarming ending as "A Boy Named Sue," but it does showcase the dark and bawdy humor that ran through some of Silverstein's works.
Take a listen to the quirky tune for yourself.
Read More: Rediscover Shel Silverstein's Country Songs
Silverstein was born on Sept. 25, 1930 and grew up in Chicago. He became a cartoonist for Playboy in the '50s and worked with the magazine for several decades. His 1962 album Inside Folk Songs launched his songwriting career. Following Cash's recording of "A Boy Named Sue," Silverstein became a go-to songwriter for multiple country artists, penning tunes for Tompall Glaser ("Put Another Log on the Fire"), Lester Flatt ("February Snow"), Waylon Jennings ("The Taker") and more. Country artist Bobby Bare recorded multiple Shel Silverstein songs, including "Sylvia's Mother," "Marie Laveau," "Daddy What If" and "The Winner." Bare's album Lullabys, Legends and Lies was a collaboration between the singer and Silverstein.
The author, poet and songwriter had two children: a daughter named Shoshanna, who passed away at the age of 11 of a cerebral aneurysm, and a son named Matthew .
Silverstein passed away of a heart attack on March 10, 1999 at the age of 68.