Joe Higgs, 59, a reggae singer best known for fostering the career of Bob Marley, died here of cancer Dec. 18.

It was in Mr. Higgs's yard in the Trench Town ghetto in Kingston, Jamaica, that the young Marley received years of private tutoring in vocal technique and stagecraft from him, years before Marley began recording with his group, the Wailers. Marley later credited Mr. Higgs with his international success. Other reggae artists coached by Mr. Higgs included Derrick Harriott, Peter Tosh, Bob Andy, the Wailing Souls and Bunny Wailer.

Mr. Higgs, who has been called "the father of reggae music," made his first record in 1960. For a time, he was managed by Edward Seaga, who later became prime minister of Jamaica.

In 1973, when founding member Bunny Wailer quit the Wailers, Mr. Higgs joined the group on an American tour as the opening act for Sly & the Family Stone, becoming part of the first wave of reggae musicians bringing the music to the United States. He later toured as Jimmy Cliff's bandleader and co-vocalist and wrote Tosh's signature song, "Stepping Razor."

His first solo album, "Life of Contradiction," came out in the mid-1970s and featured jazz guitarist Eric Gale. His 1983 single "So It Go," which called attention to the plight of the poor, caused Higgs political problems with the ruling party in Jamaica, and he left for Los Angeles, where he lived until his death.

During the last 15 years, he resumed his unofficial career as tutor and mentor to a new generation of American-based reggae musicians, and he continued to tour the world, headlining festivals in North America and Europe.

Mr. Higgs recently had been working on a cross-cultural project recorded at the group U2's studio in Dublin, collaborating with Gaelic artists in lengthy Irish-jazz-reggae improvisations.

Reggae authority Roger Steffens, who had been working with Mr. Higgs on his autobiography, characterized the musician as "a perfectionist. He was notorious for interrupting a song on stage with, 'Haul and pull up,' meaning start over again. Sometimes he'd do that two-thirds into a song.

"He could easily insert a verse from Yeats or a quote from Shakespeare into his stage raps," Steffens said. "He was self-taught, a very complicated and disciplined person."

Mr. Higgs is survived by 12 children, several of them professional musicians.