Owensboro native Mick Jeffries wears many hats: writer, photographer, graphic designer and DJ. He is also a professional ukulele player.
Although Jeffries said he did not come from a particularly musical family, he was always drawn to music.
“I’ve always had a knack for music,” Jeffries said. “I took guitar lessons when I was 12 and found it kind of dry. In college, I toyed with guitar again. I never could get much past being a middling player and kind of hung it up.”
Once he discovered the ukulele, a whole new world of opportunity opened up.
“Ukulele came into my life in the 1990s,” Jeffries said. “I found a baritone ukulele at a yard sale; even if I wasn’t very good I could at least have an unusual instrument. It played it a lot like a guitar.”
Jeffries, who now lives in Lexington, discovered a local ukulele group, the Lexingtones, which proved to be the perfect fit for him.
“It was a casual community group where we met weekly,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries found his passion through personal music. His love for the ukulele led him to places he would have never guessed, such as trips around the world and creating his own children’s show as the character Mr. Toastey.
When his daughter’s 2nd-grade class went to non-traditional instruction during the pandemic last year, Jeffries started brainstorming ways he could still play for them.
Creating a private group on Facebook, Jeffries went live on Friday’s at lunchtime alongside his wife and daughter, all dressed in fun costumes to make the time more enjoyable for kids.
Jeffries said the name Mr. Toastey came about years ago.
“This was in the days of America Online when I was creating my username,” he said. “I tried typing in ‘Mick’ but it was already taken, then ‘Mick J’ and it was taken too. So for some reason the next thing I typed was Mr. Toastey and it was accepted, there was no going back.”
The name became his cheerfully funny alter ego.
Through his love of the instrument, Jefferies eventually founded KYuke, an organization to promote all things ukulele. The organization hosts KYUkeFest each September.
“KYuke is an organization dedicated to promoting the idea and practice of personal music — music made by people for themselves, for their happiness and well-being. Our sacred implement: the humble ukulele, for the joy and community it brings,” their website reads.
Although this year’s festival was recently cancelled due to rising COVID-19 numbers, it won’t stop Jeffries from using his creative outlets.
“The ukulele took me all over the place,” he said. “It’s a way for me to help people get personal music in their life. I found an outlet from the stress our crazy world inflicts upon me.”