When Houston-raised gospel quartet singer Wilmer “Little Axe” Broadnax (Spirit of Memphis, Blind Boys of Mississippi) was stabbed to death by his girlfriend in 1992, word got out that during the autopsy it was discovered Broadnax had female genitalia and lived as a transgender male. “But, of course,” everybody in the gospel community said. His high, powerful voice sounded like a woman’s and his stature also appeared to be female.
Because of this, Broadnax has been heralded as a transgender hero.
In The Fan Who Knew Too Much, gospel historian Anthony Heilbut wrote, “Wilbur Broadnax was a very short, high tenor, nicknamed ‘Little Ax,’ in part because of his size, in part because his older brother, ‘Big Ax,’ was a popular baritone. Initially, his voice was as sweet, clear, and poignant as that of his model, R.H. Harris, who served as Sam Cooke’s gospel mentor. Then, as quartet singers grew louder and blunter, he became a heroic screamer, holding his own with some of the strongest leads, Archie Brownlee or Silas Steele.” Heilbut, without documentation, started the rumor that Wilmer was a Wilma.
But, actually, the evidence points to Little Axe being a male all along. Born in Jasper, TX, the 1920 U.S. Census lists Wilmer Broadnax, age 3, as a male. Little young to have gender identity issues. His 1940 draft registration card also lists Wilmer as male, though since he entered a height of only 4’3″ and weighed 75 pounds he was too small for the service.
At the Philadelphia murder trial of Lavina Richardson, the judge admonished her to “Stay away from older men. Stay away from men period” and she had access to the autopsy report.