Inventor of the First Karaoke Machine, Sigeichi Negishi dead at 100

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 16, 2024 6:54 am    Post subject: Inventor of the First Karaoke Machine, Sigeichi Negishi dead at 100

Inventor of the First Karaoke Machine, Shigeichi Negishi, Dead at 100
The Japanese engineer's "Sparko Box," released in 1967, sparked a singalong revolution

SHIGEICHI NEGISHI, THE Japanese engineer who gifted the world one of its greatest inventions — the karaoke machine — has died, The Wall Street Journal reports. He was 100.

While Negishi’s death is just being reported now, he died of natural causes on Jan. 26 after a fall. His daughter, Atsumi Takano, confirmed his death.

Negishi’s pioneering karaoke machine, dubbed the “Sparko Box,” was first prototyped and released in 1967. The engineer loved to sing, and the idea for the machine came one morning at his electronics company in Tokyo after an employee heard his idle crooning and started teasing him. Negishi thought he’d sound much better if his voice was paired with a proper backing track.

At the time, Negishi’s company, Nichiden Kogyo, was building 8-track tape decks for cars. So, he instructed his staff to connect a microphone, speaker, and tape deck. The first track played on the Sparko Box was an instrumental version of Yoshio Kodama’s “Mujo no Yume.” The machine was a hit at the office and an even bigger hit when Negishi took it home and showed it to his family.

Recalling his initial reaction to the machine in Matt Alt’s book, Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World, Negishi said: “It works! That’s all I was thinking. Most of all, it was fun. I knew right away I’d discovered something new.”

As a broad concept, karaoke wasn’t technically new in either Japan or America, where all sorts of singalong opportunities existed, from TV shows to coin-operated jukeboxes. In Japan, the term “karaoke” was used when singers performed with a backing track instead of a live musician; the word combined the Japanese words for “empty” (kara) and “orchestra” (ōkesutora). Negishi was tempted to use the word “karaoke” for his new machine, but his distribution partner rejected the idea, saying it sounded too much like the Japanese word for coffin, “kan’oke.”

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Despite leading the vanguard of the karaoke revolution, Negishi never really made a fortune from his device and actually got out of the business after just a few years (he continued to run his very successful company until retiring at the age of 70). He did sell about 8,000 Sparko Boxes — along with instrumental recordings and lyrics books — to bars, restaurants, and even so-called “love hotels.” But having to do sales and maintenance was exhausting, as was the process of getting a patent in Japan.

Then there was the inevitable conflict between man and machine: Before karaoke, guitarists known as nagashi would travel around to bars and offer up their services to bar patrons. They chafed at the Sparko Box and often persuaded establishment owners to return the devices they’d just purchased.


“They’d tell us that their patrons couldn’t get enough [of the Sparko Box], and that we should never come back,” Negishi said in Pure Invention. “It was the nagashi! They were complaining. Everywhere we put the box, they’d force the owners to take it away.”

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Negishi ended his Sparko Box endeavor in 1975 (his family still holds on to the last remaining device). And by that time, too, others were arguably making greater inroads in turning karaoke into the global sensation it would become. Negishi was actually one of five people in Japan to independently come up with a karaoke machine between 1967 and 1971. The other most famous contributor was Daisuke Inoue, a nightclub musician who released the “8 Juke” in 1971 and came up with the idea to provide instrumental tracks that were slightly slowed down and in keys that were easier to sing for the average person.

Still, Negishi will always have the honor of being the first, and the All-Japan Karaoke Industrialist Association still acknowledges the Sparko Box as the first karaoke machine.
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