Friday, May 11, 2012

Know Your LGBT History - Clara Ward and Willie 'Little Axe' Broadnax

For all of the talk about the division between homosexuality and the Black church, no one talks about how much gays and lesbians have influenced gospel music.

Let's look at two:

Clara Ward (Apr. 29, 1924 - Jul. 2, 1973)




Gospel performer and singer who is widely acclaimed among the greatest soloists in gospel history. Clara Mae Ward, daughter of evangelist Gertrude Ward was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in April of 1924. Like so many of her contemporaries, she gained her first musical experience singing in the church. As gospel music began to reach a wider audience in the first half of the twentieth century,Ward started singing professionally with her mother and her sister Willa with the Ward Trio (1934-1937). Later as the group enlarged its membership and became the Ward Singers, the Clara Ward Specials and finally the Clara Ward Singers which became very popular. The group included such outstanding individuals such as gospel great Marion Williams and appealed to audiences both sacred and secular. In the 1950s, the group was at the height of its power, appearing at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival and other prestigious venues. Under Ward's direction the group later broadened its appeal and became very show biz oriented which caused her to be shunned by some gospel singers for obvious religious reasons.

From Wikipedia:

Despite her career success, Ward's life was an unhappy one. Financial hardships caused her and her family to move 19 times before her adulthood. Sexually abused in childhood by a cousin and relentlessly driven as prime breadwinner by her mother throughout her life, Clara's life was one of constant work and little joy. According to her sister Willa, Gertrude Ward recognized Clara's exceptional musical ability when Clara was a child and controlled and manipulated her throughout her life. In her biography of Clara, Willa attests that Gertrude worked to prevent Clara from forming any romantic attachments. Although Clara eloped as a teenager (at age 17 in 1941), her mother forced her to tour and the strain caused the always frail Clara to have a miscarriage. Her marriage ended after only one year. Willa describes Clara as explaining her occasional lesbian encounters as the sexual expression likely to escape her mother's notice. Her only real happiness seems to have come from her longtime romance with Rev. C. L. Franklin (with whom the Ward groups extensively toured), the famous Detroit-based preacher and father of the legendary Aretha Franklin.


Wilbur 'Little Axe' 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 phenomenon, and Broadnax retired from touring, though he did continue to record occasionally with the Blind Boys into the 70s and 80s.

Upon his death in 1994, it was discovered that Broadnax was female assigned at birth.

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The Jeffersons and the transgender community    
 

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1 comment:

rottenqueerchristian said...

Can't get enough of this historical stuff.