Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Black Trans History: Wilmer 'Little Axe' M. Broadnax

Another proud moment of presenting more of your African-American trans history to you TransGriot readers.  This time I get to focus on one of my fellow Houstonians in gospel singer Wilmer M. 'Little Axe' Broadnax. 

The bespectacled, diminutive Broadnax was born in Houston on December 28, 1916 and performed in gospel quartets in the 40's, 50's and 60's. 

He and his brother William 'Big Axe' Broadnax performed with the St. Paul Gospel Singers in Houston before moving to Los Angeles to perform with the Southern Gospel Singers in 1939-1940.

The Southern Gospel singers all had day jobs that made it hard for Little Axe to get touring gigs, so Wilmer Broadnax formed his own group called the Golden Echoes.

The Golden Echoes became one of the top touring gospel quartet groups of the 40's, but William eventually left for Atlanta to join the Five Trumpets and Wilmer staying as the lead singer of the Golden Echoes.

In 1949, now augmented by future Soul Stirrer Paul Foster (the group that produced future soul singers Sam Cooke and Johnnie Taylor) they recorded a version of "When the Saints Go Marching In".  But their record label head decided to drop them before they could record a second single and the group disbanded.  

Broadnax took his powerful tenor voice to the popular Spirit of Memphis gospel quartet that included legendary gospel singer Silas Steele.   The Spirit of Memphis was one of the top grossing gospel acts of the time and were getting paid as much as $200 a week, which was big money in that time period.  Broadnax recorded and performed with the Spirit of Memphis Quartet until 1952 when he began working with the Nashville, TN based Fairfield Four.

When Five Blind Boys of Mississippi lead singer Archie Brownlee died in 1960, Broadnax was tapped as his replacement while also until 1965 continuing to lead his own group called Little Axe and the Golden Voices.
As the popularity and commercial viability of gospel quartets waned, Broadnax retired from touring, but did continue to record with the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi into the 70's and 80's.

There is a dispute as to when Wilmer Broadnax actually died.  Various sources claim it was 1994, but the Untitled Black Lesbian Elder Project website asserts that he met his untimely demise in Philadelphia in 1992.

He and his girlfriend Lavinia Richardson were engaged in a heated argument when she stabbed him on May 23, 1992 and he subsequently died on June 1, 1992.

But the fact that isn't in dispute is when he died, it was on the autopsy table the subsequent discovery was made that Wilmer Broadnax was a trans man.

Wilmer 'Little Axe' Broadnax is another fasicanting story from our Black trans history and another concrete example of Black trans people being an integral kente cloth part of our Black community.   

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