Tsutomu Katoh, founder and chairman of Korg, passed away on March 15, 2011, after a long battle with cancer.
Katoh-san was born in Showa-ward, Nagoya City, Japan on August 28, 1926. After graduating from high school in 1943, he enrolled in the navy, where he was among the crew of the submarine Koryu during World War II.
Katoh-san eventually became a nightclub proprietor in the early 1960s. Tadashi Osanai, a noted Japanese accordionist, performed regularly at Katoh-san’s club. Katoh-san had once told Osanai that it would be nice to have a rhythm machine to keep the beat.
Katoh-san and Osanai teamed up to create and market the world’s first drum machine, which generated sound from a rotary disk inside. While working on the project, Katoh-san founded Keio Electronic Laboratories. In 1963, Keio released the Disc Rotary Electric Auto Rhythm machine, a.k.a. DoncaMatic DA-20. The DoncaMatic was such a groundbreaking product that it gave rise to the term “doncama,” a word used in Japanese music and broadcasting studios to refer to the click track.
In 1970, the company developed and released a variation of an electronic organ, the first synthesizer ever made in Japan, and named it “Korgue” by combining the initials of Katoh and Osanai with the French word “orgue,” meaning organ. In 1973, the company formally changed the name to Korg.
Katoh-san famously said, “I don’t think a company should cling to a certain philosophy. Philosophy is an unchanging thought, and if you try to remain the same, you will end up becoming a fossil as the world around you changes. We need to be nimble and flexible to be able to respond to the changing times.” True to his words, Katoh-san led Korg as a company with creativity and originality.
President Seiki Kato releases the following statement: “Since he founded Korg Inc. in 1963, Mr. Katoh has led our company with great talent, vision and leadership. He was loved and respected by all the employees and Korg family members, and he made a huge contribution to the lives of countless musicians around the world.”
Korg USA President Joseph Castronovo stated, “Chairman Katoh was a true visionary and a personal friend, and he will be missed by everyone at Korg and indeed, the entire music industry. Over the past twenty years, I have witnessed firsthand the ways in which Korg has flourished under his and his family’s guidance and leadership. His passion and professional goals were one and the same: to provide innovative tools for musicians to help them grow their craft. And those goals remained the same throughout his life and career. He will be deeply missed.”