Tsutomu Katoh, founder and chairman of Korg, passed away on March 15, 2011, after a long battle with cancer. Katoh-san was born in Showaward, 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.