Shigeichi Negishi, The Godfather of Karaoke, dies at 100

Negishi never patented the design as the “cost and headache wasn’t worth it”.

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Microphone on stage

Credit: Sorin Banica / 500px / Getty

After a century as the life and soul of the party, the inventor of karaoke, Shigeichi Negishi, has passed away at the age of 100.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal‘s Matt Alt, Negishi’s daughter, Atsumi Takano, reveals that her father suffered a fall on 26 January. He died of natural causes shortly after.

Negishi invented the first-ever karaoke machine in 1967. According to the Wall Street Journal, his original invention started as somewhat of a joke; Negishi loved to sing, so when a colleague joked that he had an awful voice, he started daydreaming about how he might sound with a backing track.

His idea was simple: to create a machine that would play instrumental tapes. It didn’t matter if Negishi had a ‘bad’ voice – he made it his mission to create a machine that would allow him to sing his heart out over a backing track like a real popstar.

The 1967 Sparko Box was the initial karaoke machine prototype. Negishi ran a consumer electronic company, which allowed him access to a speaker, microphone, and tape deck. As Negishi revealed to online publication Kotaku, Negishi tested out the prototype with an instrumental version of Yoshio Kodama’s Mujo no Yume, before heading home and hosting the world’s first karaoke party in his kitchen.

However, Negishi never patented the design. Negishi and his partner believed it would the “cost and headache wasn’t worth it”, Alt wrote for Kotaku. At the time it would have been “extremely expensive and time-consuming to obtain a patent” – not to mention it required instrumental tracks to run, which would each require unique usage rights.

While Matt Alt was entrusted to relay the news on the Wall Street Journal, Alt also took to X to reflect on Negishi’s passing, stating: “Farewell to another legend: Shigeichi Negishi, inventor of karaoke, has died age 100. By automating the sing-along, he earned the enmity of performers who saw his machine as a threat to their jobs. It’s an eerie precursor of the debate surrounding AI’s impact on artists today.”

Alt also shared a lovely behind the scenes snap of him and Negishi. The photo is from 2018 when Alt was interviewing Negishi for his book, Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World.

Alt reports that Negishi’s family still owns the original – and still functioning – Sparko Box.

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