S is for Shel Silverstein

This is my contribution to Round Twelve of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.
Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein

Sheldon ‘Shel’ Silverstein was multi-talented – a poet, singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter and children’s author –  and yet he is possibly best remembered as the writer of ‘A Boy Named Sue‘.

Born into a Jewish family in Chicago in 1930, Silverstein attended Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and Roosevelt University after being expelled from the University of Illinois and then served in the US Army draft in Japan and Korea as a draftee.

Silverstien had first begun to draw seriously at the age of twelve and the army utilised his talents as the layout artist for the Pacific Stars and Stripes, but it wasn’t long before he was also contributing cartoons. His first book, Take Ten, was published in 1955 as a compilation of his military cartoons.

Silverstein CartoonSilverstein returned to Chicago and supplemented his cartooning by selling hot-dogs at local ballparks, although his cartoon began to appear in publications such as Sports Illustrated and This Week. But he first came to public attention when Take Ten was republished as Grab Your Socks in 1956.

A year later and he was a leading cartoonist on Playboy magazine and was sent round the world in the 1950s and 60s to sketch his impressions of foreign climes. These were later published in 2007 in Playboy’s Silverstein Around the World.

He later began a successful career writing for children as Uncle Shelby, a role that gave him most satisfaction, but he coupled this with another as a songwriter, most notably for Dr Hook & the Medicine Show.

Rolling Stone CoverThe title you will most recognise is Sylvia’s Mother, although he also composed The Cover of the Rolling Stone which satirised supposed success in the music business.

Silverstein also composed music for films as well as comedy songs for radio including ‘Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout (Would Not Take The Garbage Out)’, ‘The Smoke-Off’, ‘I Got Stoned and I Missed It’ and ‘Bury Me in My Shades‘.

He died of a massive heart attack in May 1999 at his home in Key West, Florida, at the age of 68 and is buried in Westlawn Cemetery, Chicago.

But as I mentioned at the beginning, the song he he is perhaps best known for is ‘A Boy Named Sue‘ and here is a video of Silverstein singing it in part with Johnny Cash and another of his songs, ‘Daddy, What If’ in April 1970.


Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

8 comments… Add yours
  • Cindi 22nd May 2013

    What a fascinating life… I love his books!

  • Janis of So Cal 22nd May 2013

    Around our house the favorite is Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout, even the part about the “rubbery blubbery macaroni”! He was a great talent, enjoyed across age groups and lifestyles. “Cover of the Rolling Stone” is now stuck on replay in my head…not a bad thing!

  • Robyn 22nd May 2013

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I knew about his books but didn’t know about all his other accomplishments!

  • Roger Green 22nd May 2013

    I actually know him better for the songs (Rolling Stone, Sue) than his books!
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Richie 22nd May 2013

    Nice salute to Shel
    An Arkies Musings

  • A Chap Named Pudding 22nd May 2013

    Good morning Ian!…It’s wonderful to have more than one talent. I had always thought that it was Cash himself who wrote “A Boy Named Sue”. Thanks for telling us about the talented Mr Silverstein.

  • Ann 22nd May 2013

    Such an accomplished artist!

  • Leslie 23rd May 2013

    Oh wow…I remember my late husband and his best friend singing “A Boy Named Sue” and having a great time!

    abcw team


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