From The "Father of Karaoke" to his Offspring
Updated: Apr 6
Legend has it that karaoke started in 1961 with the arrival of an American sing-along show called Sing Along With Mitch. They were the ones who placed the lyrics at the bottom of the screen and used the bouncing little ball invented in 1924 to discern what and when which words should be said. In 1967, “Shigekazu Negishi, who ran a car audio-system assembly business in Tokyo, made a prototype of a karaoke machine. This “music box” had a microphone, a tape, and a lyric sheet.”
But it was in 1972, when Daisuke Inoue became the “Father of Karaoke,” when he invented the first ever “Karaoke Machine.” He called it the Juke 8. While he never patented it, his work helped many of us create iconic sonic memories. Plus he still managed to get extremely rich off of it anyway. From there, it’s all 8-track tapes, laser discs, and cassette players, plus the little rat catcher to stop animals from eating karaoke machine wires. Daisuke definitely patented all of those outside ideas and spent the rest of his life hanging out with his wife and daughters.
My Personal History With Karaoke
I'm known for being a great live performer, and when people ask me why that is, I’ve given the same answer: I thank karaoke every single time and woe be it to those that just can't get it. There is something special about learning the ins and outs of crowd work and party lust by standing up in front of a group and just letting it rip right out of you. It’s the way we should approach everything.
My introduction to karaoke starts on my sister’s 6th birthday. My parents originally got our karaoke machine for her. The machine itself was pretty big as it stitched two tape players atop a large speaker and came ready to play Remember the Time by Michael Jackson and Baby Baby by Christian pop goddess, Amy Grant. Since my family would often buy equipment and no other parts to run it, these were the only songs I remember singing over the next few years.
You’d put the tape in, run past the song intro and listen to the poorly sung version. Then you could turn it over then play the background music karaoke version on the other side. You’d sing into the microphone it came with the lyrics inside each tape. No muss, no fuss in 1993. Anything that helped me get as good as ‘90s Michael Jackson singing was exactly what I wanted anyway.
Bowling Alley Karaoke
Years later, my friends and I would spend time going out to sing more and more karaoke. As a group of American kids in the very American city of Houston, Texas. The places we chose were very also very American too. Public singing spots all over town where people would work their way up to the KJ (Karaoke Jockey), and tell him what song they’d like to sing. He’d loop you in somewhere and we would all hope we would get to jam before going to the next scene. Oftentimes, if he didn't know you you'd end up waiting hours and not singing before all the bars closed.
One of the big successes for us in high school was the bowling alley by the old house where my sister once got her karaoke machine. They decided to open themselves up to all the exiting high school students. It was the last summer we'd have together before leaving for our new schools and work opportunities. We would show up, pay $10, then sing and bowl as much as we could over the next few hours. Some days the music would be so perfect you could hit three strikes in a row. On other days someone would sing the Ghostbusters theme so badly you’ll roll nothing but gutter balls until they finally finished and let your ears go.
Once, all the exiting football boys decided to do a Top Gun inspired performance. We prepped the KJ, someone did the little scene before, and then I and 20 other guys all sang You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling together to the entire bowling alley. I like to think that anything that gets 20 or so modern boys to put aside their differences and do something spectacular together is worth holding onto no matter how bad it sounds.
That Time I Won A Karaoke Contest
I don’t even remember what the prize was, but I was back in Houston again for a random contest of karaoke skills. I’m not sure if I even knew I could actually sing yet, but someone told me there was a Karaoke Contest that night. I'd been in a band or two since then, so I figured it couldn’t be any worse than usual if I tried to participate.
I fought my way through round after round. I sang songs about All-Stars, rapped my way through Regulators, and finally, I had one competitor left. A black woman with a formidable singing voice. She'd gotten through the contest doing Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer hits. I wasn’t sure if I could even challenge her, let alone beat her at this! Karaoke was clearly her game.
She busted out Works Hard For The Money by Donna Summer and all of the people really seemed to like her. Luckily for me, she didn’t move very much. She mostly stood there and soaked up as much love as she could before finally passing me the microphone. My only chance to win this thing would be to go down a road I’d had never gone down before. Rather than doing something from my string of pop classics I remembered, I instead told the KJ to play Lean on Me by Bill Withers. My thought was that once you hit them with the bridge, you can inspire the crowd to sing along and win almost any competition.
You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you'll understand
We all need somebody to lean on
This turned out to be quite a fortunate play. By the end of the night, the bar decided they were looking at two competition winners. We accepted our prizes and kept on singing with our new friends all night long.
Why I Love Karaoke
While I would never get to say it, the reason I can connect with a crowd now has everything to do with the previous karaoke events I got to do growing up. I didn’t think of it as a chance to get better at singing, but that is kind of how it happened.
I’d go to places nearby and pick songs to sing. I’d learn how to inspire others to get up and join me. Once, I even made my own father dive in and do public karaoke at a place near our house. We sang Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding. It's a beautiful memory I get to keep - the time I sang karaoke with my father. It doesn’t matter how big or how small it is, but I want to be my own version of the "Father of Karaoke," Daisuke Inoue. I want to help people get where they are looking to go one karaoke song at a time. Because with the right songs, there is nothing we cannot do.