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

A Masterpiece is Born

The noted cartoonist and poet got the idea for the song after a conversation with his friend Jean Shepherd, who conveyed his childhood suffering due to being made fun of because all the other kids believed he had a “girl’s name.” Silverstein originally recorded the song himself, but it was Johnny Cash’s rendition that brought it into the spotlight.

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Jean Shepherd. December 08, 1964. (Photo by Arthur Pomerantz/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)

While it is not entirely sure why Silverstein picked the name “Sue,” it is assumed that the name was inspired by the well-known attorney Sue Hicks, who was named after his mother who died a few days after giving birth to him. Hicks is mostly known for his role in the 1925 “Scopes Trial,” where he was a co-investigator and prosecutor. Silverstein attended a judicial conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee where Hicks was a speaker, and apparently, this is where he got the idea for the song’s title, as the prosecutor’s name struck him as oddly feminine.

While Johnny Cash later said that he was unaware that Silverstein had only one person in mind when he wrote the song, he sent Hicks two autographed pictured and two albums with the inscription, “To Sue, how do you do?”

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