In rural East Tennessee, there is an antique piano shop unlike any other place in the world. It's full of treasures that date back centuries, and are being restored to their former glory. The shop's work is unique. The shop's owner is highly skilled in piano restoration and piano playing.
"It's as if it's streaming through me like an iPod," says Michael Stinnett. "I am a person of strong faith and that comes from the connection I have when I am playing the piano that it is definitely a divine stream coming from God."
Michael Stinnett can hear a melody once and play it beautifully. "When I was 3 years old I'd been to Bible school at the little church that I grew up in and we were singing 'Jesus Loves Me' and I vaguely remember this, coming home and sitting down to the old piano we happened to have sitting in the corner and I started playing 'Jesus Loves Me' as if everybody knew how to do it," says Michael.
It took his mom completely off guard.
"Cold chills run all over me and I said, "What in the world is that kid doing?"" says Marie Stinnett.
Michael was born and raised in Friendsville. He started playing the piano at age three, he starting tuning pianos at age six.
"I got frustrated with certain notes that wouldn't play so pieces that were broken I actually took Tinker Toys and replaced them and made it work," says Michael.
Michael was a piano playing prodigy. He took college piano courses in the sixth grade.
"I was invited to the Governor's Mansion for Governor McWherter's inauguration many years ago," says Michael.
And he's always been a businessman, using his talents to help him buy his first car.
"I would put an ad in the paper. $40 to tune the piano. I would sit and play it for the people and they would love it," says Michael.
And while he always thought he would be a concert pianist, he focused on piano restoration and became the youngest vendor ever to have a store at Dollywood.
"I was 20 years old and I had a small collection of Player Pianos that I had restored that were out in the garage and I decided that I wanted to get them out so people could see them," says Michael. "I would dress like Charles Ingalls or a ballroom piano player, one of the two, and I would literally fix pianos there at Dollywood. We had to use old-fashioned tools, nothing electric," says Michael.
For ten years, the Stinnett family was a Dollywood staple. "My mom and dad were both retired and they worked the store," says Michael.
After a decade, though, it was time to move on to Asheville, Atlanta, Memphis and San Francisco before finally realizing the importance of the internet. So he came home and moved in to an old boat factory across the street from his childhood church.
"I never dreamed that I would be back in Friendsville at age 41. I was going to be in New York on stage, but this is very fulfilling."
And he has a staff of artists, wood carvers, piano tuners from all over the world.
"The talent that we've got here has been phenomenal," says Michael.
They restore really old antique pianos, some that have been in families for generations.
Michael Stinnett, the ultimate piano man, playing is in his heart, piano restoration is in his soul and East Tennessee is always on his mind.
"Come back to East Tennessee and you can lay your head down at night and close your eyes and actually go to sleep and not worry about the chaos that's right outside your window. It's the most peaceful, most beautiful place I've ever been."
One of Your Stories. There's no place like this one.
The Antique Piano Shop is the only restoration business in the world that restores Square Baby Grand pianos.