The New York Daily News said he was apparently 73, but never admitted his age.
Barrett was influential in creating the R&B sound. He started singing with a vocal group, the Valentines, because they wanted to record a song he had written, "Summer's Love," the Daily News said. The Valentines later recorded "Lily Maebelle," "My Story of Love" and "Woo Woo Train."
In 1955, Barrett became involved with The Teenagers, whose vocalist Frankie Lymon he coached in style and phrasing, the newspaper said. Barrett also produced Little Anthony and the Channels.
Barrett could do it all -- sing, produce and choreograph, the newspaper reported.
XM Satellite Radio dedicated Friday's show to Barrett, ending with "Don't Say Goodbye" by the Valentines. The "Group Harmony Revue" on WFUV in New York also commemorated Barrett's passing, as did other R&B specialty shows.
Barrett died of pancreatic cancer, though he was still pitching almost to his last day, the Daily News said.