Thomas Lee Barrett, Jr. (born 1944), better known professionally as Pastor T.L. Barrett and Rev. T.L. Barrett, is an American Pentecostal preacher and gospel musician. Barrett is a preacher on Chicago's South Side who released gospel albums in the 1970s; as a musician, he was largely unknown outside of Chicago until a resurgence in interest in his music occurred in the 2010s.


Barrett was born in New York City, but his family moved to Chicago when he was young. Barrett's father was a gospel musician who was involved with the music at a church run by Barrett's aunt. He attended Wendell Phillips High School, where he was expelled.[1] His father died when Barrett was 16, and he then moved to Queens, New York, where he lived with his uncle and took a job at Flushing Hospital extracting glands from cadavers.[1] At 17 he was arrested for failing to pay child support to a 37-year-old who bore his child.[1] In New York, he worked as a shoeshiner and played piano at parties and at venues such as the Waldorf Astoria and the Village Gate.[2] Eventually, he decided to become a preacher, returning to Chicago and starting his own youth-focused ministry.

His career as a pastor began in 1966.[2] He was pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, in the Washington Park neighborhood of Chicago in the 1970s. After a theological disagreement with the elders of the Mt. Zion church, he left to form his own ministry, the Life Center COGIC church, in the same neighborhood.[1]

Barrett was charged in 1989 with orchestrating a pyramid scheme, by encouraging his congregants to donate to a series of economic development fundraisers which yielded over two million dollars in total.[2] The financial viability of the plan was judged by a court to be infeasible, and Barrett was ordered to place his church's title in receivership as a result.[2] He was ordered to repay 1.2 million dollars in 1998, which he did successfully.[2]

In 1998, the Illinois House of Representatives honored Barrett for contributions to civic life in Chicago.[2] The city of Chicago named a portion of Garfield Boulevard, close to his Mt. Zion church location, in Barrett's honor.[1] In 2007, Barrett's youngest daughter, Kleo, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend.[3]

Musical careerEdit

In the 1970s, Barrett's congregation included many noteworthy Chicago-area musicians, such as Maurice White and Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind and Fire, Donny Hathaway, and Phil Cohran.[2] Barrett, recording as Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir, released the album Like a Ship (Without a Sail) in 1971. The Youth for Christ Choir, led by Barrett, was an approximately 40-member ensemble of children ages 12 to 19, which grew out of his Tuesday night weekly choir meetings.[1] The album featured instrumental contributions from Phil Upchurch, Gene Barge, Charles Pittman, and Richard Evans (of Rotary Connection).[4] It was reissued by Light in the Attic Records in 2010 to critical acclaim[4][5][6] and praise from musicians such as Jim James and Colin Greenwood.[2] Barrett also released several further albums of music over the course of the 1970s, as well as discs of sermons; he also recorded as Rev. T.L. Barrett.

In 2016, Kanye West sampled the song "Father I Stretch My Hands", from Barrett's 1976 album Do Not Pass Me By, in the song "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1" from the album The Life of Pablo.[1] In 2016, Barrett's music was used in an Under Armour commercial directed by Harmony Korine and on the soundtrack to the film Barry.[1]


  • Like a Ship...Without a Sail (1971)
  • I Found the Answer (1973)
  • Do Not Pass Me By (1976)
  • Roots (1977)
  • Do Not Pass Me By Vol. II (1978?)
Sermons released on LP
  • Please Don't Squeeze the Charmine
  • John M. Smith (Or Do You Say Smythe?)
  • If I Should Wake Before I Die
  • It Tastes So Good
  • How Would You Like to Have a Nice Hawaiian Punch?
  • Dry Bones in the Valley


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