Willmer "Little Ax" M. Broadnax, (December 28, 1916 – 1994) also known as "Little Axe," "Wilbur," "Willie," and "Wilmer," was an African-American hard gospel quartet singer. A tiny man with glasses and a high, powerful tenor voice, he worked and recorded with many of the most famous and influential groups of his day.
Broadnax was born in Houston in 1916. After moving to Southern California in the mid-40s, he and his brother, William, joined the Southern Gospel Singers, a group which performed primarily on weekends. The Broadnax brothers soon formed their own quartet, the Golden Echoes. William eventually left for Atlanta, where he joined the Five Trumpets, but Willmer stayed on as lead singer. In 1949 the group, augmented by future Soul Stirrer Paul Foster, recorded a single of "When the Saints Go Marching In" for Specialty Records. Label chief Art Rupe decided to drop them before they could record a follow-up, and shortly thereafter the Golden Echoes disbanded.
In 1950, Broadnax joined the Spirit of Memphis Quartet. Along with Broadnax, the group featured two other leads -- Jethro "Jet" Bledsoe, a bluesy crooner, and Silas Steele, an overpowering baritone. This was one of the most impressive line-ups in quartet history. The Spirit of Memphis Quartet recorded for King Records, and Broadnax appeared on their releases at least until 1952. Shortly after that, however, he moved on, working with the Fairfield Four, and, in the beginning of the 60s, as one of the replacements for Archie Brownlee in the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. Until 1965 he headed a quartet called "Little Axe and the Golden Echoes," which released some singles on Peacock Records. By then, quartet singing was fading as a commercial phenomena, and Broadnax retired from touring, though he did continue to record occasionally with the Blind Boys into the 70s and 80s.
- Carpenter, Bil; and Kip Lornell. Willmer Broadnax. All Music Guide.
- Anthony Heilbut, liner notes to "Kings of the Gospel Highway," Shanatchie 2000 (discusses Broadnax's gender)