When Roger Miller sang “rooms to let, fifty cents” in “King of the Road,” it was only slightly less than he had paid some years earlier for room and board at Delia “Mom” Upchurch’s boarding house in the Edgefield neighborhood of East Nashville. Down and out in his early Nashville days, the singer-songwriter stayed at the Upchurch boarding house for just $7 a week.
Miller was just one of the many country legends to pass through the Upchurch house. Carl Smith, Faron Young, Grandpa Jones, David “Stringbean” Akeman, Stonewall Jackson, Hank Garland, Buddy Spicher, Hank Cochran, Johnny Paycheck and several other male Opry stars or aspiring country singers from Music City opted to stay with “Mom” over the years.
Today we’d all be clamoring to have Stringbean and Roger Miller at our dinner table. But in the 1940s and 50s, “hillbilly” musicians had a reputation for being wild, unkempt and unreliable. But Ms. Upchurch had a different mindset. She loved hillbilly music and only rented to people in the music business. She knew her tenants had major talent and just needed a leg up on their way to stardom. Many of the artists at the Upchurch house may never have made it in Music City if it wasn’t for the kindness of the woman at 620 Boscobel Street.
Inside ‘Hillbilly Heaven’
When Delia Upchurch was widowed in the mid-40s, she opened up her home to tenants, such as Grandpa Jones and Pee Wee King. East Nashville was already a haven for struggling musicians. Many roomed in trailer parks and one-room apartments on Dickerson Pike. But the Upchurch boarding house was unlike any other.
Mom Upchurch acted as her “boys” unofficial agent. When acts were searching for fill-ins for their backing band, they knew to call the Upchurch house. Mom booked the gigs all while cooking and ironing for the young up and comers. The boarding house quickly became known as “Hillbilly Heaven.”
The 1,678 square foot home has five bedrooms and one bathroom.
You can easily imagine Roger Miller or Hank Cochran penning a song in one of the cozy bedrooms.
Breakfast in the Upchurch kitchen was 75 cents, while 85 cents would buy you a home cooked dinner. But if Mom saw that a penniless musician was hungry, she’d feed him for free.
The quaint porch was undoubtedly the site of many picking sessions made up of country legends, such as Butterball Paige and Buck Trent.
Known as the “Den Mother to the Stars,” Mom Upchurch died in 1976. Her house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (The house is also just across the street from the bungalow used as Deacon’s original house on Nashville.)
The historic home was recently listed for sale for $389,000. The lucky new owner of this piece of country music history just might hear the faint sound of front porch-picking and Mom Upchurch tapping her foot to the beat.