Alex Bradford, 51, a composer, singer and Broadway actor known for his gospel music, died in his sleep yesterday at Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, N.J.

He was hospitalized there after suffering a stroke Feb. 2 while performing at a testimonial dinner. He never regained consciousness.

Mr. Bradford composed the music and wrote the lyrics for "Your Arms Too Short to Box With God," a gospel musical in which he also sang. It ran on Broadway recently and was performed at Ford's Theater here in 1975. He was nominated for Tony and Grammy awards.

Earlier, he had received an Obie, an award for off-Broadway productions, for his role in the play, "Don't Bother Me I Can't Cope." He also had composed the music for that production.

Mr. Bradford was the composer and performer of one of the biggest selling gospel records, "Too Close to Heaven." It sold more than 1 million copies in 1954.

He spent much of his time, helping such singers as Dionne and Dee Dee Warwicke, Judy Clay and C. and the Shells. He wrote for Nancy Wilson, Della Reese, Sam Cooke and Jackie Verdell.

Gospel historian Tony Heilbut wrote of Mr. Bradford: ". . . His compositions for LeVern Baker in the early '60s may have been the first marriage of gospel and pop sounds in the presoul era."

Mr. Bradford, however, never concentrated exclusively on pop music and its commercial awards. He said he was not tempted to make the switch as had many of his fellow artists, such as Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, Sam Cooke and Johnnie Taylor.

"I've sung the blues and lived the pop life," he once said. "When I was in the Army (in World War II) I used to entertain the troops at camp shows by singing the blues. And I've written many songs for pop singers. I really don't need to make any transition. I've already been there. I also know that many artists who switch to pop forget all about the gospel and I can't do that."

Born in Ressemer, Ala., Mr. Bradford made his debut in vaudeville at the age of 4. He grew up in the rich and varied musical tradition of gospel, blues, country and light opera.

He lived in Chicago for a period after getting out of the Army and moved to Newark 20 or more years ago.

About two years ago, he and his wife, Alberta, formed the 60-member Creative Movement Repertory Theater, which performs on the East Coast. Mr. Bradford had said he preferred theater work to touring with singing groups.

He was the minister of music at the Greater Abyssinian Baptist Church in Newark.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Lisa and Denise, of the home in Newark, three sisters and one brother.