The Complete Story Behind Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue”

It All Starts with a Boy

The end of the 1960’s brought the world the debut of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, the last live performance of the Beatles, and the first man landing on the moon. In the world of music, 1969 is the year Johnny Cash released his hit “A Boy Named Sue.” In July 1969, Cash released what it would become his biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

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Tara Cash, Cindy Cash, Kathy Cash and Rosanne Cash speak during ‘Becoming Our Father: Johnny Cash’s Daughters in Conversation’ at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on May 27, 2017, in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Country Music Hall Of Fame & Museum)

Written by Shel Silverstein and produced by Bob Johnston, the song was certified Gold on August 14, 1969, by the RIAA and topped both the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks and Hot Country Songs charts the same year. Cash sang it urged by his wife, June Carter Cash, who thought it to be perfect for Cash’s repertoire. In celebration of the song’s birthday, here is the complete story behind one of the most famous and loved Johnny Cash songs.

Setting the stage – Shel Silverstein writes “A Boy Named Sue”

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Photo of Shel Silverstein (Photo by Alice Ochs/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

A multitalented American writer famous for his children’s books, cartoons, and songs, Sheldon Allan “Shel” Silverstein was born in a Jewish family on September 25, 1930. He began drawing and writing at a very young age.
Silverstein is best known for his iconic books of poetry and prose for young readers. Some of the titles include “Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back” (1963), “The Giving Tree” (1964), “A Giraffe and a Half” (1964), “The Missing Piece” (1976), and “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” (1981). A prolific poet, Silverstein was also the author of several contemporary poetry collections such as “Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1974), “A Light in the Attic,” (1982), “Falling Up” (1996) and Don’t Bump the Glump! And Other Fantasies (1963, reissued in 2008).

His books, which are all illustrated by the author, are characterized by a skillful mixing of the serious and sly, the macabre, and just plain silliness. The recipient of a Golden Globe, an Academy Award nomination, and two Grammy Awards, Silverstein had started dabbling in songwriting since the late 1950’s, but it wasn’t until 1969 that he became famous in the music world.

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