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Shigeichi Negishi, Inventor of Karaoke, Dead at 100

Negishi first invented the machine, originally called a "Sparko Box," in 1967 after his coworkers jokingly insulted his singing voice

<p>Getty</p> A karaoke machine and microphone

Getty

A karaoke machine and microphone

Shigeichi Negishi, the man who invented the modern karaoke machine, has died at age 100.

The Japanese businessman died on Jan. 26 after a fall, Negishi's daughter Atsumi Takano said, per The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ reporter Matt Alt was one of the first to share the news of Negishi's death on X (formerly Twitter), noting that Negishi's family had asked him to share the news.

"Farewell to another legend: Shigeichi Negishi, inventor of karaoke, has died age 100,” wrote Alt, who interviewed the Tokyo native in 2018. “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.”

The salesman, who made a living at his tech company Nichiden Kogyo, produced the first version of the karaoke machine in 1967, when he was already in his 40s. Negishi originally called it a “Sparko Box,” and the first seed for the idea came after one of his employees jokingly insulted his singing voice.

In his 2018 interview with Alt, Negishi recalled the engineer calling out to him as he sang to himself down the hallway, “You aren’t a very good singer, Mr. Negishi!”

Shortly after, he came up with a plan. He asked one of his engineers to put together a microphone, speaker and tape deck, and inserted an 8-track tape to play the song “Mujo no Yume” (“The Heartless Dream” in English) by Yoshio Kodama.

According to Alt, Negishi immediately brought the “Sparko Box” — named for the flashing lights within a later design of the machine — home to his family and tested it with all his kids, giving them each a chance to sing.

“I still remember how shocked and thrilled all of us were hearing our voices come out of the speaker,” his daughter recalled.

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Although Negishi is now credited with creating the machine, musician Daisuke Inoue was long thought to be the grandfather of karaoke, although his version was invented independently in 1971, per NPR.

Next, Negishi hit the road, becoming a traveling salesman as he attempted to sell Sparko Boxes to bars, hotels, restaurants and any other venue he could think of. By the end of his career, he had sold around 8,000 devices, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Negishi never patented the device, citing Japan’s difficult patenting process of the 1960s as the main reason why. But according to Takano, “truly, the patent never bothered him.”

“He felt a lot of pride in seeing his idea evolve into a culture of having fun through song around the world,” she told The Wall Street Journal. “To him, spending a hundred years surrounded by his family was reward enough.”

Negishi is survived by three children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, per the outlet.

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