95.3 / 88.5 FM Grand Rapids and 95.3 FM Muskegon
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Remembering Dave Smith, inventor of MIDI and the Prophet-5 synthesizer

Dave Smith, center, photographed attending the 2015 North American Music Merchants convention in Anaheim, Calif.
Pete Brown
/
Wikimedia Commons
Dave Smith, center, photographed attending the 2015 North American Music Merchants convention in Anaheim, Calif.

The sound of pop music in the '80s was shaped by synthesizers – and one of the most impactful people behind that sound was inventor Dave Smith, creator of the Prophet-5 synthesizer and founder of Sequential Circuits, the instrument's small-scale production company. Though his most well-known inventions were decades in the past, Smith, who died last week at the age of 72, is still remembered with reverence.

"He always knew more about what a musician wanted, or needed, than they did," says keyboardist Roger O'Donnell, who has played synths in some bands you might have heard of – The Cure and The Psychedelic Furs among them. But the legacy of the Prophet-5 is at least, if not eclipsed, by that of another Smith invention: the Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, which allowed digital instruments to speak the same language for the first time. The technology remains in wide use today – thanks in no small part to it being made totally free.

To hear the broadcast version of this story, use the audio player at the top of this page.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tags

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.