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Karaoke inventor Shigeichi Negishi dies at 100

Karaoke inventor Shigeichi Negishi demonstrates his "Sparko Box" for writer Matt Alt, 2018.
Hiroko Yoda
Karaoke inventor Shigeichi Negishi demonstrates his "Sparko Box" for writer Matt Alt, 2018.

Shigeichi Negishi, the inventor of the world's first commercially-available karaoke machine, has died in Japan. He was 100 years old.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Negishi's daughter Atsumi Takano said her father died from natural causes on Jan. 26, after a fall.

Negishi was in his 40s when he came up with the idea of prototyping a mass-produced, coin-operated karaoke machine, branded "Sparko Box," after a colleague at the consumer electronics assembly business he ran in Tokyo criticized his singing.

Until the Sparko Box came along in 1967, karaoke-like activities involved the use of backing tracks provided by live bands or instrumental recordings.

"By automating the sing-along, he earned the enmity of performers who saw his machine as a threat to their jobs," wrote author Matt Alt on social media. Alt interviewed Negishi for his book, Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World. "It's an eerie precursor of the debate surrounding AI's impact on artists today."

The Sparko Box employed eight-track cassette tapes of commercially available instrumental recordings, with lyrics provided in a paper booklet. The business ran into problems and Negishi dissolved it in 1975. He never secured a patent for his invention.

Although Negishi was the first to create a karaoke machine, many people attribute the invention of karaoke to nightclub musician Daisuke Inoue, who independently invented his own karaoke machine in 1971. Inoue's contribution was to create versions of pop-song backing tracks in keys that could suit a variety of amateur singers. (Three additional Japanese inventors created versions of karaoke machines in the late 1960s and early 1970s.)

Negishi was born on Nov. 29, 1923 in Tokyo. His father was a functionary who managed regional political elections. His mother owned a tobacco store. An intellectual child, he went on to study economics at Tokyo's Hosei University.

He fought in the Japanese army during World War II and spent two years in a prison camp after Japan's defeat in Singapore. Released in 1947, Negishi's career in the electronics industry took off during the post-war business boom in Japan. After retiring at 70, he focused on his hobbies — basket-making, sculpting and, naturally, karaoke singing.

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Chloe Veltman
Chloe Veltman is a correspondent on NPR's Culture Desk.