Skip to main content

Teen singer uses her music to raise awareness for autism

Zelena Hull found her voice in a way once thought to be impossible.

At age 17, the Spartanburg resident has already written more than 300 songs, despite the fact that she could not bear to listen to music as a young child.

“When she was a little girl, if we went to church, she would cry,” Valerie Hull, Zelena’s mother, said. “Then we had a diagnosis around (age) 10 that she was autistic. We worked through a lot of the things that you normally have with autism.”

When she was first diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, Hull’s family was told that she would likely not to able to live by herself. Her family began to focus intensely on overcoming some of the issues associated with Hull’s autism.

“She flourished after that,” her mother said.

“I started singing when I was around 11 years old,” Hull said. “I decided to go for it and get voice lessons and learn to play the guitar. I didn’t realize I was autistic.”

Hull is a straight-A, high school junior in the South Carolina Virtual Charter School. The online classroom allows her the flexibility to pursue her music through writing, performing and now recording in Nashville. Her first song was released at age 13. She released an album in 2017 and has two new songs scheduled for release this year.

Hull first found that she loved singing and songwriting through competitive singing, but she shifted her focus to recording in 2015. She now has an in-house label and publishing company. Her music is being played on FM stations in the U.S. and on some of the biggest stations in Europe. Upstate residents may have seen her perform at local events, including at Greenville Drive games and in Greer Idol.

“Performing came naturally to me,” she said. “I have no idea why.”

Hull’s mother said she believes the fact that Hull doesn’t get nervous about performing comes in part from her high-functioning autism.

Hull doesn’t shy away from speaking about her autism; in fact, she uses her talent as an outlet to educate and inspire others.

Expressing a wide range of ideas through music gives Hull the opportunity to elicit in others the emotions she feels. Hull said she wants to have a good life and support herself through her music, but she said she isn’t in the music business to be a star.

“I have a lot of ideas about how the work works,” Hull said. “I try to put myself in somebody else’s shoes. I’m a believer in empathy and love and all the emotions you feel. Music is memories. It comes with the best of times and the worst of times. My No. 1 goal is to make people feel emotions. I want to listen to something that makes me happy.”

Hear Zelena Hull’s music online at