Life in Our Foothills January 2022 – Michael Whiteside

Published 10:45 am Monday, January 10, 2022

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Man of Many Talents
Michael Whiteside, Local Musician and Stonework Artisan

Story By Erin Boggs

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Not many of us are lucky enough to live such a rich and fulfilling life as local musician and stonework artist Michael Whiteside. If you are fortunate enough to have time to sit and talk with him, you will be amazed at all the stories he has to tell.

Michael met his wife Stephanie in the 11th grade through a fellow classmate. “My wife grew up in New York, and I also grew up in New York until age 8, when my mother and I moved back to this area where she was originally from, but we met each other here. We didn’t know each other up there.” At that time, Michael played trumpet in the Chapman high school marching band, under band director Harrison Elliot. Growing up in Inman, on Bobo and Bomar Streets, “It was so nice back then, it was a whole different world back then. A whole bunch of boys, we would actually play baseball or softball right there in the middle of Main Street Inman, in front of Kempson Rexall Drugs, even with the police! The police were playing with us and coaching too,” Michael says.

He went to summer school every year and graduated a year early, in 1975. “There wasn’t anything else to do, and I could go work in the peach or apple orchards, but I didn’t like that. I was a musician. I played in a band, The Magic Funk Band, the whole time I was in school. In order to be in the band, I had to agree to go to school every day.”

Michael plays both the trumpet and keyboard. “I got started in elementary school playing the trumpet. My uncles taught me. They were only two or three years older than me and they played in the high school band. So, they used to bring their instruments home every day and I would just play around with them. Then all of a sudden, a couple of years later, I was playing just as good as they were, and a few years later I was playing better!” The youngest member of the Magic Funk Band, “I was the baby and people were amazed at me because I could play the keyboards and trumpet both at the same time!” he says.

“We really didn’t know how good we were until we got out and started travelling to different parts of the country, and playing with other people. Then they started asking us to back them up. To make it in the music business back then, you had to go to NY or LA. In today’s terms, as good as we were, we would have been just as big as any of the other R&B groups,” Michael says. The band played shows only on the South East Coast, and Michael’s musical talents weren’t strictly limited to R&B. He also knew and played with members of Southern Rock bands.

“I played with a lot of them. We all knew each other, the Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alabama, The Temptations, The Commodores. We travelled the same circuits.” At the early age of 16, Michael even got to meet musician Charlie Pride, and later on met pianist Jerry Lee Lewis. They played with many musicians before their bands made it big, including The Commodores, at Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium, when they only had one or two R&B hits. They even went and had donuts with them at the nearby Krispy Kreme. Two years later, The Commodores were a supergroup.

It was an icy and snowy night in the late 70’s at The Orange Peel in Asheville, a club that became home to R&B and Soul bands during that time. Before their show started, Michael and his band mates went outside for a cigarette. After a while, they realized one of the band members had simply vanished. They looked all over for him. Unfortunately, it turned out the band member fell through a hole covered by the snow and ice, into a pit that had been dug for a septic system repair! They finally pulled him out of the pit and he and Michael went on to play the entire night without a change of clothes.

“I was a full-time musician for the first few years after I came out of high school,” Michael says. Then, he and his wife became parents, and coming from a divorced family he said, “I don’t want my kids growing up that way. So, I came off the road and I quit playing with the band, and that hurt me to my heart. But it was a choice I made. So now I needed a job.”

After being off the road for several months, he met local German stone mason Siggi Oberlander, who took him in and taught Michael all the skills of stone masonry. Now, after over 40 years in the business, Michael remains a sought-after stone mason in our area. His wife Stephanie went on to become a local optometrist. “My wife is the most beautiful, sweetest person in the world. I attribute my whole life to her,” Michael says.

Once while working on a residential masonry project in Flat Rock, Michael says “I’m out here working and this guy walked down the road with his wife and two dogs, and I said “Hello!” and he said ‘I always wondered how you guys did this work,’ and I’m looking at this guy, and it’s killing me, I know him… I KNOW him..and I said ‘Sir, what is your name?’ and he looked at me, started smiling and said “James.” James was none other than musician James Taylor, whom he got to spend some time with later that same day.

Stephanie’s father knew Actress Eva Gabor, most famous for her role as Lisa Douglas in the 1960’s sitcom “Green Acres.” He used to clean Eva’s windows at her apartment in New York City. She was angry at her boyfriend and didn’t want the furniture he had bought for her. She sold Stephanie’s father the furniture, for pennies on the dollar. Today, Michael is currently building an addition to his home where the furniture will remain.

As you sit and talk with Michael at his home, you will meet Fred, a beautiful Macaw from Brazil and part of the Whiteside family. He loves to listen to the Latinx Music channel on TV, and they leave it playing for him all day. He’s been with the family nearly 12 years now. He gets down from his perch and walks all through the house during the day. He knows many words. “Sometimes he calls me Daddy and sometimes he calls me Mike.” Michael says. Another unique thing about Fred is he has bird superpowers. “When you hear him say ‘Hello’, you know the phone is about to ring. He can hear the ring signal before we can!” Michael says.

Michael is not the only Whiteside family member to enjoy a rich life, full of success. He has two younger sisters who played professionally for the WNBA, Valorie and Gwen, who now both coach women’s teams, one at Dorman High School and one at Wofford College. His sister Valorie is the mother of J. J. Arcega-Whiteside, Wide Receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles. His nieces also played professional sports and became local coaches.

Today, Michael is a loving husband, father and grandfather, and is the music director at his church, Fountain of Life. If you ever get the chance, it is a true honor and joy to know Michael Whiteside.