Karaoke inventor Shigeichi Negishi dies, aged 100

Shigeichi Negishi, the Japanese entrepreneur who invented the first karaoke machine, has died at the age of 100.

The news was reported by the Wall Street Journal, who confirmed via his daughter Atsumi Takano that he passed away in Tokyo on January 26 from natural causes following a fall.

In 1967, Negishi, who was working for an electronics company at the time, designed the rudimentary Sparko Box, which would go on to inspire the globally dominant karaoke machines of the future, after being caught singing badly in his office.

Realising that his singing could be helped with the presence of a backing track, he pieced together a speaker, a tape deck and a microphone, and took the trial contraption home to his wife and children. The first karaoke performance that night was over an instrumental version of Yoshio Kodama’s ‘Mujo no Yume’.

Negishi also coined the term karaoke, a contraction of the Japanese words for ‘empty’ and ‘orchestra’, although his distributor did not like the name, feeling it too closely resembled the word ‘kanoke’, meaning coffin.

Arriving at the name of the Sparko Box, Negishi started mass producing the machine, touring bars and restaurants to sell them, shifting approximately 8000 of them over an eight year period. As the 1970s rolled on, other inventors would eventually create similar prototypes, including Daisuke Inoue’s 8 Juke, but Negishi’s predated all of them by several years.

Negishi’s credentials as the original pioneer is acknowledged by the All-Japan Karaoke Industrialist Association, the country’s largest organisation of karaoke manufacturers and retailers.

He did, however, never patent the invention, something his biographer wrote “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,” wrote Matt Alt. “To him, spending a hundred years surrounded by his family was reward enough.”

Negishi’s family reportedly still own the last working Sparko Box.