Kyu Sakamoto (December 10, 1941 - August 12, 1985) was a Japanese pop singer and actor best known internationally for his 1963 smash hit, "Sukiyaki," which was sung in Japanese. He was also an actor who appeared in many Japanese language movies throughout his career.
He was born Hisashi Sakamoto in Kawasaki, Kanagawa, Japan. He began singing and playing the guitar in high school and was a member of a number of bands that included Danny Iida & Paradise King. After landing a record contract with Toshiba Records, Sakamoto launched his solo career in 1960, and the following year, he released "Ue O Muite Aruko" (I Look Up When I Walk), which topped the charts in Japan. Written by Rokusuke Ei and Hachidai Nakamura, this bittersweet ballad tells the story of a heartbroken young man who lost his love and tries to hide his feelings by looking up and whistling while he is walking so that his tears will not fall.
While on a visit to Japan, Pye Records executive Louis Benjamin discovered this song and arranged to bring it to England. The song was renamed "Sukiyaki" after the popular Japanese beef dish to make it easier for English speakers to remember, but other than the language, this new title had no actual connection to the song. In 1963, Pye Records first released an instrumental version of "Sukiyaki" by Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen, and after that version became a hit, His Master's Voice (HMV) shortly thereafter released the original by Sakamoto which reached #6 on the U.K. charts.
Sakamoto made his U.S. debut in 1963 with "Sukiyaki," which topped both the Adult Contemporary and Pop/Rock charts and made the Top 20 on the R&B charts. This smash hit, which also topped the charts in Australia, Canada, and Norway, went on to sell over 13 million copies worldwide, making it one of the top selling singles of all time. Sakamoto's hits in the U.S. continued through the end of 1963 with "China Nights (Shina No Yoru)" and his final chart entry, "Tankobushi," which became a minor hit. He also released an album titled "Sukiyaki And Other Japanese Hits" which reached #14 on the Billboard 200 in 1963.
Sakamoto was one of 520 people who died in a plane crash on August 12, 1985 while on Japan Airlines Flight 123.
- For more information about Kyu Sakamoto's life and career, visit sakamoto-kyu.com.
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- Sukiyaki 1963
(This song, which is sung entirely in Japanese, topped both the Adult Contemporary and Pop/Rock charts. "Sukiyaki" later also became a hit for Taste of Honey (1981).)
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