Creator Donald Shupe now lives in Mississippi, but would like to see Sparkle the Christmas Light make a comeback. (Submitted)

Do you remember Sparkle the Christmas Light?

Creator of popular 80s/90s light discusses item’s origin, wants to see it revived

Reporter’s note: Back in 2014 when I was working for the Squamish Chief we were tasked with writing a column discussing holiday memories or traditions. I wrote about my family’s journey with Sparkle the Christmas Light (which my sister broke), that column can be viewed here.

In the years that followed, the story became the top Google search for the popular product from the late-’80s and ‘90s. A number of people over the years reached out to myself and representatives at The Chief to offer me a new Sparkle and to talk more about the beloved product.

I then received a Facebook message this November from a woman stating that her step-father was the creator of Sparkle and he would love to talk more to me about the product. After about an hour of conversation earlier this month, the mysterious origin of Sparkle the Christmas Light was finally revealed.

Deep in western Mississippi, right on the border with Louisiana, is the man behind one of the biggest (albeit brief) holiday retail successes in Canadian history – Sparkle the Christmas Light.

Donald Shupe, 83, who lives today in Natchez, Miss., was involved in music from an early age. He performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville back in 1956, but eventually realized that superstardom as a performer wasn’t in the cards.

He soon learned that his skills lied in writing music, and the entire concept for Sparkle began to form with the creation of a song he completed in 1971.

“Start off with a song that will come back every year,” he said, of early advice he received from songwriters. “You got to pick out a season. So I said you have Easter and Thanksgiving, but I need a song where everybody’s involved – Christmas.”

The brainstorming continued until Shupe narrowed down his vision.

“I got to thinking what in the world can you write about,” he said. “Everybody’s written about everything, but then I realized I’d never heard a song about a Christmas light. I chose Sparkle as a character because I envisioned this red light, along with all the other lights, but he was the brightest and I made a character about it.”

After writing the song he began shopping it to several producers, who suggested he expand the idea to include an actual light and other products for people to get more connected to the character. Shupe then traveled to Taiwan in 1984 to begin production on the Sparkle materials. He made a number of trips there over the year, working on developing and fine tuning Sparkle and all its related products. It was actually the factory in Taiwan that suggested putting the crown on Sparkle.

“The way I wrote it I called it the king of all lights,” he said, of some of those early production meetings in Taiwan. “And they put the crown on it for me, and said ‘how do you like this’ – I loved it.”

Shupe then acquired patents for the design of the light and copyrights to the Sparkle character. He went on to write a book to go along with the character and hired Nashville singer Darlene Austin to sing the Sparkle song that is included on a cassette tape he also produced. That song is the one that was sold with many versions of the light in Canada.

The Canadian deal was struck in 1985 with a company called Alderbrook Industries, which was based out of Pickering, Ont. Shupe said the company owner became enamoured with Sparkle.

“He fell in love with it because it was something fresh and new,” he said. “They’ve had Rudolph and Frosty and all them and nothing new – it’s the same old songs still being sung.”

Alderbrook, founded in 1963, were at one time Canada’s biggest Christmas decoration company. They believed that Sparkle would be a big holiday hit and even managed to get an inflatable balloon version of Sparkle to appear in The Toronto Santa Claus Parade in 1985. Shupe said he believes that appearance helped spark sales throughout Canada. He said negotiations with Alderbrook were easy.

“They were so eager to get it,” he said. “And they gave me a good contract – I think I ended up with eight per cent of the gross. That is before the net, so I was tickled to death with it and I made good money, I was thrilled.”

Shupe said his first cheque from Alderbrook was for over $85,000. He received another cheque from the company, but he believes they still owe him about $14,000 from additional sales. The light was packaged with a cassette tape, a book and sheet music. Alderbrook distributed the product to stores all across Canada.

Unfortunately the man that Shupe originally dealt with died after that first year and despite what he perceived as its success, the company did not remain in contact with him. Alderbrook filed for bankruptcy in 2002. Shupe said he’s unsure what happened with the deal.

“It was just one year,” he said. “That’s what amazes me about the popularity of Sparkle. I knew I had a winner here, but I was just a poor boy in the south there was no way I could continue doing it. So I just let it be.”

Shupe said he had an opportunity to launch the product in the United States, but miscommunication at a big meeting in New York led to a potential deal not being completed. The company Shupe negotiated with wanted him to match the $5 million they were putting up and it was something he was unable to do. He didn’t receive many other serious offers. He also didn’t decide to sell the item outside of North America. He still has some stock, with about 48 of the original Sparkles still in the package and 300 of a larger version of the light.

He still owns all the trademarks and copyrights related to Sparkle.

Following the ending of the partnership with Alderbrook, Shupe moved on to other things. He ran and went on to sell three different automobile dealerships, he still owns several businesses and runs a number of properties in his area.

He said he’s thrilled to see Sparkle live on in the social media age. A YouTube video with the song has close to 15,000 views and people post online about the item on a regular basis. The light is now considered a vintage or rare product on selling sites such as Amazon or eBay. Shupe said he’s seen the light be sold for hundreds of dollars or more.

He still believes that the light could make a major comeback, and if marketed correctly, could be a huge holiday hit.

“Think of how many Christmas trees are up right now,” he said. “And they all got the same kinds of lights. If you sold Sparkle to just a quarter of them, think of how many Sparkles that would be and how much money that would produce. It should have been the next big thing, but it just didn’t get into the right hands. I think about it all the time, someone could pick it up and run with it. But I still love it and enjoy it.”

Shupe said despite all his success in business and music, in his hometown he is always recognized as the man that created Sparkle. He said he is open to talking to anyone interested in relaunching the brand.

“I’d love to see it take off again,” he said. “It’s so fresh and nobody knows about it over here [USA].”

Despite the potential lost, Shupe said he would not have done anything differently.

“Maybe I should have kept trying to sell it, but God has blessed me so well and maybe I wouldn’t have succeeded in other ways,” he said. “I wished I had pursued it a bit more because I do think it would have brought joy to a lot of people. I hope someday someone will be able to take it and run with it. I don’t see anyone in my family doing that, so it may leave when I leave, ya know?”

Those interested in talking business with Shupe can reach out by contacting him via email at dshupenatchez@gmail.com.

To read the original column that sparked this conversation, visit squamishchief.com/opinion/columnists/remembering-sparkle-the-greatest-christmas-light-1.1695780.

ChristmasChristmas holidayChristmas tree

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The Sparkle book was created as part of a package with the light.

The Sparkle book was created as part of a package with the light.

Sparke the Christmas Light’s mysterious backstory has been revealed after the creator Donald Shupe reached out to The News.

Sparke the Christmas Light’s mysterious backstory has been revealed after the creator Donald Shupe reached out to The News.

Just Posted

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

F.W. Green Memorial Home in Cranbrook. Photo courtesy Google Streetview.
Plan for future expansion of F.W. Green Home taking shape

Capital projects underway at East Kootenay Regional Hospital, per update from Interior Health

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Colleen Price, Vancouver Island University’s bachelor of science in nursing program chairperson, says she is impressed with how students have persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Next generation of B.C. nurses already showing resilience

University program head says learning had to be adjusted amidst pandemic

Two-year-old Kashius Weme rides at the Steve Smith Memorial Bike Park in Nanaimo on Tuesday, May 11. The youngster’s precocious bike-riding ability is already attracting cycle sponsors. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
2-year-old B.C. bike rider already attracting cycle sponsors

Nanaimo’s Kashius Weme has a knack for extreme cycle sports

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Sunfest country music bash won’t be shining on B.C. in 2021

Annual Vancouver Island Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, along with Laketown Shakedown

Most Read