Spirit of Gospel: Wilmer “Little Axe” Broadnax

Wilmer "Little Axe" Broadnax

Wilmer “Little Axe” Broadnax, December 28, 1916 – 1994, was a gospel singer who worked and recorded with many of the most famous gospel groups of his day, including The Golden Echoes, one of the top touring gospel quartet groups of the 40s, and the renowned Spirit of Memphis Quartet.

Little Axe, Big Voice

Wilmer "Little Axe" BroadnaxBroadnax was born in Houston. Both he and his brother, Big Axe, were singers. Broadnax developed a strong tenor voice, and in the mid ’40s they moved to Southern California to advance their singing careers.

By the 1950s, Broadnax was performing with one of the most impressive line-ups in gospel quartet history: the Spirit of Memphis Quartet. Broadnax appears on the cover of the book, Happy In Service Of Lord: African-American Sacred Vocal Harmony, with the Spirit of Memphis. He went on to work with the Fairfield Four and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. In the early 60s, Broadnax fronted a quartet called Little Axe and the Golden Voices.

He retired from touring shortly thereafter, though he continued to record occasionally with the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi through the 70s and 80s.

Broadnax was stabbed to death in either 1992 or 1994.  It was not known that he was a trans man until the time of his death.

Little Axe’s Career

  • St. Paul Gospel Singers, Houston, 1930s.
  • Southern Gospel Singers, Los Angeles, 1939-1940.
  • Little Axe and the Golden Echoes, 1940s.
  • Spirit of Memphis, 1950-1952.
  • Fairfield Four, Nashville, 1952.
  • Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, 1960s.
  • Little Axe and the Golden Voices, 1960-1965.

Significant Recordings

I’ll Tell It Wherever I Go (1945) – Southern Gospel Singers

Waiting and Watching (1949) – Little Axe and the Golden Echoes

“Little Axe’s lead is absolutely distinctive on these cuts. He is the high lead that takes over from the baritone of Paul Foster. His voice is sweet but almost vicious, dripping with emotion, while Foster, in contrast, would offer almost a growl.” – Ray Funk , music critic

In this amazing 1949 track, Broadnax picks up at around 1:04, finishing Foster’s line, so they seem to fuse into a single seamless multi-octave singer. At 1:25, Broadnax goes even higher, soaring into a Marion-Williams-like ““Ooooooo!” – Noah Berlatsky

He Never Left Me Alone (1949) – Spirit of Memphis Quartet

You Are My Sunshine (1963) – Little Axe and the Golden Voices

Photos of Little Axe


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