Karaoke Exhibit at Towson University

On Thursday (February 16), I had the honor of hosting a panel in Towson University’s Center for the Arts, where some of the most distinguished KJs in the D.C./Baltimore area shared their expertise.

Dave Gaines, Rudy Lizardo, Susie Horn, Jimmy Nalley, and Brooke Abercrombie

Collectively, the KJs represented nearly 150 years of karaoke hosting experience with clients ranging from Wolf Blitzer to the Philippine Festival at the Maryland State Fairgrounds to some of D.C.’s biggest clubs to private bar and bat mitzvahs. Each KJ offered unique insight on a particular facet of the karaoke world, and they all had interesting paths that led them to the big stage (and, by “big stage,” I mean karaoke stage). A few, for example, started out as professional and formally trained musicians who found new musical life through hosting karaoke.

Many interesting themes emerged in our discussion: karaoke technology, music & disability, musical therapy, karaoke & pedagogy, karaoke etiquette, cultural differences w/ karaoke performance, karaoke & embodiment/dance, entrepreneurship, and how to get inside the Supreme Court with all of your karaoke equipment in a post-9/11 world.


The event took place as part of a gallery exhibition called Karaoke: Asia’s Global Sensation in the Asian Arts & Culture Center. I served as a guest curator for the exhibit along with Tom Carroll. The whole exhibit was put on by Joanna Pecore and her assistant Nerissa Paglinauan. Joanna is shaking up the Asian Arts & Cultural Center with some great exhibits on karaoke, Japanese tattoos, and a residency for Tibetan monks endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The karaoke exhibit featured some really interesting content on both karaoke as a global technology and a local folk practice in Maryland. Panels lining the walls featured spotlights on karaoke practitioners in the local area–from Baltimore Karaoke League to Curry-Oke at Spice Xing Restaurant in Rockville.

karaoke4Some of the signature aspects of the exhibit include some kitschy ephemera from karaoke’s past and present. The “Carry-A-Tune” handheld karaoke machine (pictured left) is a pretty amazing relic and certainly stands as my favorite exhibit item.

Other materials in the exhibit included a karaoke timeline, survey of karaoke among different local communities, bizarre karaoke technology, classic karaoke promo posters, and even a little feature for James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” (which is giving karaoke a renaissance, KJs inform me).

The opportunity to meet KJs also gave me a chance to get a little insider knowledge on some random and somewhat obscure karaoke facts. The song with the longest instrumental? Possibly “Sweet Child of Mine.” The hardest song to sing (that nonetheless is frequently chosen by singers)? “Carry On My Wayward Son.” (the a capella intro!) Biggest pet peeve? When people drop the mic! (even though Obama and Katy Perry did it)


Overall, the opportunity to help with the curation of this exhibit revealed a Xeno’s Paradox of sorts: the more you put on display, the more you realize there is to display that you can’t display. In other words, so much couldn’t make it into an exhibit like this, but the exhibit is a rich testament to karaoke–undoubtedly the world’s most popular form of amateur musical performance.


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