Karaoke Inventor Shigeichi Negishi Dead at 100

    Shigeichi Negishi, the Japanese engineer who invented the karaoke machine in 1967, has died aged 100, The Wall Street Journal reports. Negishi’s daughter Atsumi Takano told WSJ journalist Matt Alt that Negishi passed away last month, on January 26, of natural causes after suffering from a fall.

    Alt, who had previously interviewed the inventor for his book Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World, wrote on X: “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.”

    Negishi created the first commercially available karaoke machine, which he called the Sparko Box, in 1967. He came up with the idea after a colleague joked that he had a bad voice, and he thought it would sound better with a backing track. Negishi, who ran a consumer electronics business, asked the head engineer of his company to create a prototype that could play instrumental recordings with a microphone amp and a mixing circuit. It ended up as a cube-shaped machine that played 8-bit tapes connected to a microphone, and lyrics were provided in the form of a booklet. The first song Negishi tried singing along to was a version of ‘Mujō No Yume’ by Yoshio Kodama.

    Negishi never patented his creation, and the Sparko Box was a commercial failure. The popularity of the karaoke machine grew exponentially in Japan in the 1970s before becoming global the next decade. Just one Sparko Box remains, which is kept by Negishi’s family.

    Konstantinos Pappis
    Konstantinos Pappis
    Konstantinos Pappis is a writer, journalist, and music editor at Our Culture. His work has also appeared in Pitchfork, GIGsoup, and other publications. He currently lives in Athens, Greece.

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