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Bernie Pitters with the Toronto roots-reggae band the Human Rights in 2018.Danny Alexander

In 2011 at a recording studio in Vaughan, Ont., a frustrated Bernie Pitters was producing the vocal track for Jamaican-Canadian singer Jay Douglas on a reggae adaptation of a classic Leonard Cohen anthem. They had been working on the vocals for a week, but it wasn’t until the final days of the sessions that Eureka met Hallelujah.

“Bernie took the microphone and said, ‘Jay, sing Sam Cooke,’” recalled Mr. Douglas, referring to the supple-voiced sweater-vest soul of the legendary Mr. Cooke. “That’s all he needed to say to me. He had stretched me out, and he finally got what he wanted.”

The resulting island interpretation of Hallelujah became one of Mr. Douglas’s most popular recordings. “He taught me a lot, not just as a singer, but in how to listen,” Mr. Douglas said. “He was an amazing producer.”

Mr. Pitters, veteran Toronto-based reggae keyboardist as well as a producer, died on Dec. 9, as a result of complications of diabetes at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital in Toronto. He was 68.

He was a long-time member of the Toronto roots-reggae group the Human Rights, and toured internationally for years with the Jamaican superstars Toots and the Maytals.

That band’s leader, the late reggae pioneer Toots Hibbert, was a musical father figure for Mr. Pitters, according to Mr. Douglas. “They had a very close relationship. Being with Toots was good for Bernie. He got to travel and see the world, big time.”

In Toronto, he was tutored on the keyboard by Jackie Mittoo, the Jamaican-Canadian maestro of the instrument. “Jackie was his inspiration,” Mr. Douglas said. “He was Bernie’s idol.”

He gigged in the backing band of Leroy Sibbles, one of the star musicians and producers of the famed Jamaican studio and record label Studio One. Through his association with Mr. Sibbles, he contributed to Bruce Cockburn’s 1980 LP Humans.

“He was always welcoming and friendly, and had an impressively deep pocket laying down the reggae grooves,” Mr. Cockburn said. “A really tasteful player.”

He was born in Birmingham, England on Nov. 5, 1955. His father, Mervyn Pitters, worked for the Royal Air Force and, later, in Jamaica, as a geographical surveyor; his mother, Iris Pitters (née Marks), was a homemaker. At the age of eight, he moved to Jamaica with his father, who had remarried after the death of his wife.

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Mr. Pitters was known for his rhythmic abilities on the keyboard.Danny Alexander

In 1976, at age 21, he relocated to Toronto to pursue a career as a musician in the burgeoning reggae scene that flourished with the relaxation of Canadian immigration rules. For nearly a decade he also worked as a night supervisor for Canada Post.

The Caribbean musician exodus north began in the late 1960s before reggae was born. Documented by the Seattle-based Light in the Attic label with the acclaimed 2006 compilation Jamaica to Toronto: Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-1974, the fusion of American soul and Jamaican rocksteady in Toronto fuelled one of the most dynamic scenes in Canadian music history. The reggae boom in the city was eventually blunted by the rise of disco music and the accompanying common replacement of live bands with DJs.

Ms. Pitters’s passport would have read “Herbert Lloyd Pitters,” but he went by “Bernie,” though he was not commonly called that. To those who knew him, he was simply “Pitters.”

He had a slight stammer, and was known for his laugh. “Everybody loved it,” said guitarist Paul Corby. “It started out as a mutter and then grew out big.”

Though gregarious, playful and collegial, Mr. Pitters was strong willed when it came to music. “If you had an idea he didn’t agree with, he would dismiss your premise outright and tell you what you didn’t understand about music,” Mr. Corby said.

The colourful Mr. Pitters had a knack for getting himself into dicey situations that were only humorous in retrospect. Once at the militarized Checkpoint Charlie crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War, he slipped off a tour bus unnoticed to use a bathroom at the border. He emerged from the facilities just in time to see the bus and its unaware driver pull away without him.

“He told me he was running and yelling, before he heard the cock of the Kalashnikovs,” said guitarist Carl Harvey, who toured with Mr. Pitters with Toots and the Maytals and Leroy Sibbles’s band. Mr. Pitters managed to reunite with his bus and bandmates without causing a major international incident.

On another tour of Europe, Mr. Pitters was removed from a train by a pair of towering Belgian border guards because of a paperwork snafu. “They picked him up and dragged him away,” Mr. Harvey said. “His legs were barely touching the ground.”

As for his musicianship, Mr. Pitters was known for his rhythmic abilities on the keyboard. “Outside of a few guys in Jamaica, he had one of the best reggae grooves,” Mr. Harvey attested. “The shuffle – he had a wicked shuffle.

He had learned to play his instrument while a student at Excelsior High School in Kingston, Jamaica. According to the website Reggae North, he first came to Canada as a member of the Otravis Band.

In 2015, the keyboardist/producer was part of the first class of inductees into the Toronto Reggae Hall of Fame with Mr. Douglas, Mr. Sibbles and drummer Everton (Pablo) Paul.

In recent years, Mr. Pitters’s diabetes affected his eyesight. “He was probably 80-per-cent blind, but he could still play,” Mr. Douglas said. “He once told me he was going to make reggae last forever. You’ve got to give the man credit.”

He leaves his sons, Triston Darrall, Omari Pitters, Kaedi Pitters, Akiva Keller Pitters; and sisters, Lorraine Pitters-Lambert and Madine Pitters.

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