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Pastor T.L. Barrett's Five Decades Spent As A Current For Our Sails

Pastor T.L. Barrett rewrote the rules of gospel in the 1970s and '80s.
Courtesy of the artist/Shore Fire Media
Pastor T.L. Barrett rewrote the rules of gospel in the 1970s and '80s.

"I grew into love of my music and of my ministry because it was actually a way out," says Pastor T.L. Barrett, Jr. in an interview with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. Barrett, now 77 years old, recalls his difficult youth; as a teenager, he turned to songwriting to express himself. And 50 years ago, in the years following the Civil Rights movement, he released his classic album, Like a Ship (Without a Sail). The title track described how he was feeling at the time.

"Ships carry cargo, much needed cargo. The commerce and industry depends on ships and trucks to ferry cargo from port to port. But if they don't have a sail, if they don't have a means of navigation and motivation, they're just out there in the water — and that's how I was ... like a ship without a sail," Barret says. "But I knew I could make it with the power and the presence of god in me. I knew that no matter what life brought to me I could take it, and if it was negative, I could shake it off. And I put those words to music."

In the 1970s and '80s, the pastor rewrote the rules of gospel, with songs like the transcendental "Wonderful." In recent years, his recordings have been sampled by hip-hop artists, such as Kanye West and DJ Khaled. And last week, his collected work was reissued in a box set called I Shall Wear a Crown.

Listen to Mary Louise Kelly's interview with Pastor T.L. Barrett in the audio player above, and stream Barrett's latest collection below.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Mano Sundaresan is a producer at NPR.
Sarah Handel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]