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Japanese inventor who built the first karaoke machine after a colleague mocked his bad singing has died

Close-up of young man singing karaoke while enjoying with friends in party.
Shigeichi Negishi, the inventor of the first karaoke machine, has died. He was 100.Getty
  • Shigeichi Negishi invented the first karaoke machine in 1967.

  • The Sparko Box resulted in thousands of copycat versions being made.

  • Negishi died of natural causes on January 26 after a fall, but the news was recently publicized.

We have one man to thank — or blame — for the many nights we've spent yelling our favorite hits down a microphone: Shigeichi Negishi.

The Tokyo-based entrepreneur who invented the world's first karaoke machine has died. He was 100.

Negishi died of natural causes on January 26 after a fall, his daughter Atsumi Takano said, though the news had not been widely publicized until now.

Matt Alt, who interviewed the inventor in 2018 for his book "Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World," wrote an obituary for Negishi in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

"Farewell to another legend," he wrote on X.

"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 wrote on X.

The Sparko Box

The idea for a karaoke machine came to Negishi when a colleague overheard him singing at work and mocked him for how bad he was.

Negishi was convinced that if he could sing to a backing track, everything would be different, and his colleague would be more than impressed.

And so, in 1967, the world was graced with its first karaoke machine: the Sparko Box.

Copycat versions came fast.

The musician Daisuke Inoue put his Juke 8 on the market four years later in 1971. The Juke 8 is often credited as being the world's first karaoke machine.

But as Alt mentions, the All-Japan Karaoke Industrialist Association has officially recognized the Sparko Box as the first invention that pioneered karaoke as we know it.

Negishi chose the name "karaoke" because, in Japan, the term had been used to refer to singers who used backing tracks to perform. The word is a mixture of the Japanese words for "empty" and "orchestra."

A worldwide phenomenon

The Sparko Box didn't make Negishi millions because he never patented it. By 1975, he had abandoned the karaoke business altogether as he "grew tired of the conflict with musicians and the grind of door-to-door sales and maintenance," Alt wrote.

Negishi produced about 8,000 Sparko Boxes and delivered them to establishments across Japan.

Now, only one remains: in Negishi's family living room as a memento.

Takano told Alt the patent and the financial fortune it could have provided 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. To him, spending a hundred years surrounded by his family was reward enough," she said.

A global music culture

karaoke
Negishi invented the Sparko Box and debuted the product in 1967.Tabatha Fireman/Getty

Japan has over 8,000 karaoke facilities and thousands of pubs and snack bars that provide customers with karaoke equipment.

Since the phenomenon shipped to the US in the early 1980s, franchisees of major restaurants and bar chains such as Applebee's, Chili's, and Buffalo Wild Wings have jumped on the karaoke trend to acquire and retain customers.

Online karaoke-hardware retailers, led by Ace Karaoke and Karaoke Warehouse in the US, continue to thrive.

According to some estimates, the global karaoke market is expected to grow from $5.3 billion in 2022 to $6.8 billion by 2032.

There are over 600 apps available on the Apple App Store related to karaoke music, some of which major recording artists such as Lady Gaga and T-Pain have endorsed.

Though many don't know his name, Negishi launched a global music culture.

Correction: March 16, 2024 — An earlier version of this story misstated Shigeichi Negishi's date of death. He died on January 26, not January 29.

Read the original article on Business Insider