IN MEMORIAM: Johnny Kitagawa, Japanese-American talent manager // Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths
John Hiromu Kitagawa (87) (October 23, 1931 – July 9, 2019), known professionally as Johnny Kitagawa, was a Japanese-American businessman and talent manager. He was the founder and president of Johnny & Associates, a production agency for numerous popular boy bands in Japan. Kitagawa assembled, produced and managed more than a dozen popular bands, including Tanokin Trio, Hey! Say! JUMP, SMAP, Arashi, Kanjani8, V6, NEWS and KAT-TUN. Kitagawa’s influence spread beyond music to the realms of theatre and television. Regarded as one of the most powerful figures in the Japanese entertainment industry, he held a virtual monopoly on the creation of boy bands in Japan for more than 40 years.
From 1988 to 2000, Kitagawa was the subject of a number of claims that he had taken advantage of his position to engage in improper sexual relationships with boys under contract to his talent agency. Kitagawa denied these claims, and in 2002 was awarded an 8.8 million yen judgment against the magazine that had published such allegations. An appeal by the magazine followed, resulting in a partial reversal of the judgment. The Tokyo High Court reduced the damages to ¥1.2 million, concluding that the reports of drinking and smoking were defamatory but that the allegations of sexual exploitation of adolescent boys by Johnny Kitagawa were true. A 2004 appeal to the Supreme Court by Kitagawa was rejected.
Born in 1931 in Los Angeles, California, United States, Kitagawa returned with his family to Japan in 1933. His father Taido was a Buddhist priest and was the third head bishop of the Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo from 1924 to 1933. Johnny went to America about 1949. In the early 1950s, he returned to Japan to work at the United States Embassy. While walking through Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park he encountered a group of boys playing baseball. He recruited them to form a singing group, acting as their manager. He named the group “The Johnnies”. The Johnnies achieved a measure of success by using a then-novel formula of mixing attractive performers singing popular music with coordinated dance routines. The Johnnies were the first all-male pop group in Japan, and set the pattern that Kitagawa would follow with his subsequent acts. Indeed, the term “Johnnies” would come to apply generically to any of the performers under Kitagawa’s employ. He graduated from Sophia University and received his Bachelor’s degree in International Studies.
I’m not very interested in records. Once you release a record, you have to sell that record. You have to push one song only. You can’t think of anything else. It’s not good for the artist.>
—Johnny Kitagawa, June 1996
On July 9, 2019, Kitagawa died at a hospital in Tokyo after suffering a subarachnoid hemorrhage stroke on June 18, at the age of 87.
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Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths…
11: Brendan Grace, 68, Irish comedian (Father Ted) and singer, lung cancer.
9: Johnny Kitagawa, 87, Japanese-American talent manager, founder and president of Johnny & Associates, stroke; Aaron Rosand, 92, American violinist.
8: James Henke, 65, American music journalist (Rolling Stone) and museum curator (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), complications from dementia; Tunica Teixeira, 69, Brazilian sound designer and musical producer, cancer.
6: Martin Charnin, 84, American lyricist (Hot Spot, Mata Hari, Annie) and theatre director, heart attack; João Gilberto, 88, Brazilian singer-songwriter and guitarist, pioneer of bossa nova music style; Thommy Gustafsson, 71, Swedish keyboardist (Sven-Ingvars); Yannis Spathas, 68, Greek guitarist (Socrates Drank the Conium).
5: Paolo Vinaccia, 65, Italian jazz percussionist, pancreatic cancer.
4: Vivian Perlis, 91, American musicologist.
2: Michael Colgrass, 87, American-born Canadian composer, Pulitzer Prize (1978), skin cancer; Costa Cordalis, 75, Greek-born German schlager singer; Ibrahim Emin, 56, Azerbaijani rock musician (Yukhu); Jacky Zimah, 63, Indonesian singer.
1: Oskar Kröher, 91, German folk singer; Sid Ramin, 100, American composer (West Side Story, Too Many Thieves, Stiletto), Oscar winner (1962); Boguslaw Schaeffer, 90, Polish composer, musicologist and graphic artist.