(Last updated: June 18, 2018)
(Published: June 17, 2018)
Was Stevie Wonder’s Tutor From the Michigan School for the Blind, Ted Hull, an F.B.I. Informant? Why Did He Really Wait Thirty Years to Write a Book About His Experiences?
by DR Wolfe
As a child I remember being among the thousands of white-looking families who fled to the other side of 8 Mile Road following the “riots” of 1967 and 1968. As we all watched the news, we were taught to be afraid of anyone with dark skin. I know now, the jokes and stories we were told as children, by the older kids and adults, were intended to re-enforce this hatred and ignorance, and the inevitable mistrust that made Michigan one of the most racially divided states in America.
Stevie Wonder, a 1969 graduate of the Michigan School for the Blind, knows all to well–
You can read more about the amazing school for the blind in one of the chapters from my autobiography, “3 Americas”, but Here’s a few inside details about Stevie Wonder that his tutor, Ted Hull, didn’t mention in his 2004 book, “The Wonder Years”.
On a side note, it’s sad that the author didn’t bother to mention the names of the dozens of other great teachers at the Michigan School for the Blind who all played a major role in Stevie’s education, not to mention the hundreds of other blind and visually-impaired students who passed through this residential school, located a few blocks from downtown Lansing.
I especially look forward to telling you about the great music program Stevie helped build.
We had access to this incredible industrial shop, where Mr. Anderson and Mr. Richards taught us to rebuild lawn-mower engines; build transistor radios; make signs out of molded plastic; and we could build almost anything we wanted out of wood. So one year, I built a miniature baseball stadium with artificial grass and these miniature wooden bleachers.
We also had this canoe building shop, where the students could build (and sell) canoes.
I was a member of the Explorers, a campus camping club that almost every older boy on campus belonged to, along with a handful of adventurous girls (a few of whom would secretly slip into your sleeping bag in the middle of the night, and make out). From time-to-time, we would take the canoes to the school pool to test them out. Which was fun, until Mr. Burnett decided it might be a better idea for us visually-impaired kids to test one canoe at a time. Ooppps!
If you ask me, those were the wonder years at the Michigan School for the Blind (during the 1960’s and the 1970’s). I look forward to telling you more about the school in another chapter, and how these amazing teachers, like the band teacher who first started teaching me piano, Jack Chard, all had, or developed, these great verbal communication skills.
And I also look forward to telling you about my favorite math teacher, Fred Neuman, a champion long jumper from the Perkins School for the Blind in New York. And if you knew how, Mr. Neuman always had a story to tell about how the blind kids from the Perkins School would compete against and beat the kids from the public schools in both track and football. While we wrestled against both the blind schools and public schools, our track and field competition was strictly against other blind schools from our conference.
There were dozens of other great teachers at the school I’ll tell you about, as well as Stevie Wonder’s the grade teacher, Lucy Carner, who all had developed these natural talents to teach us blind kids — they taught us ‘to always be brave and courageous in whatever you do, no matter what’. Just like Stevie, I have always tried to live by this.
So let me begin this article by saying, Ted was sure right about one thing. Dr. Robert Thompson, the school for the blind’s superintendent, was one of the kindest, most decent people I’ve ever met!
His whistling “s’s” grew to be a legend us kids strained to hear every chance we could, and then imitate. Sometimes a group of us boys would march down the sidewalk, side-by-side, doing our best impression of Dr. T barking out greetings that always began with a sharp whistle on the “s”, followed by the word, “Say”…as we marched by his residence.
Yet, as great as he was, and I’m sure he’s resting somewhere comfortably with the other angels, in my humble opinion he made two serious mistakes while he was superintendent.
First, he allowed a gym coach at the school to regularly undress many of us young boys, take us into the heated pool (without supervision), and then fondle some of us while pretending to teach us to swim!
And in my opinion, the second mistake he made was recommending Ted Hull to MoTown to be Stevie Wonder’s tutor, rather than a fellow African-American young man (or woman) with similar credentials (and a little more ‘street cred’ for the MoTown crowd).
If it could be done over, and it were up to me, I think a young African-American couple (as long as one of them had a degree in special education) would have been the perfect choice, given the circumstances. The job was mostly about being Stevie Wonder’s tutor, house parent, and personal manager while he was on the road.
Despite what some “educators” may say, it doesn’t really take a whole lot to be a good teacher of the blind, just a lot of patience and some creativity.
To his credit, Ted Hull had negotiated a contract that paid him $8,000 per year for his services. And while it may not have been real easy to live on this amount for two people, it would have prevented us, the true American music fan, from losing what may have been five or six years of Stevie Wonder’s best music. I’ll explain.
I’m saying, there’s little doubt that Ted Hull was viewed as being a snitch for the government, true or not, and Stevie Wonder’s career paid the price. The first proof of this is, at almost the very instant Ted was dismissed by MoTown Stevie’s career Wonder’s career suddenly took off.
Obviously, a lot of important things weren’t made clear to Dr. Thompson about the situation. For example, it wasn’t just a tutoring position, as it may have first been presented. It was also a personal assistant and business manager position too. Perhaps, the need to solve the problem as quickly as possible, so Stevie could continue to travel and perform, was the reason nobody may have completely thought it through; did anyone think about whether or not it was a good idea to place a white guy inside of MoTown during the 1960’s?
However, had this been foreseen and discussed more thoroughly, I suspect in all his wisdom Dr. T would have recommended a tutor who could drive, legally. And I suspect he may have also given more consideration to recommending a fully-sighted tutor/assistant for Stevie Wonder, especially for those occasions when things became unsafe for this young, popular singer and song writer, who happened to blind.
But here’s another problem with this relationship most people may have never considered; here’s the problem with having a partially sighted person being given significant control over the life of a completely blind person.
While I’m sure few people see a problem with this arrangement, and may even think it’s a positive thing, kind of like the story everyone’s heard about how the one-eyed-man has to always be the king over the village of the “helpless” blind people.
However, the authoritarian way that many “partials” (a term used to describe those with some vision) seem to naturally exercise their dominance over most totally blind people, is not uncommon. Except, to most of us totally blind people, as I learned later in life, it’s just another form of slavery.
Did Stevie Wonder ever express this feeling of resentment toward Ted to other musicians at MoTown, a feeling that almost every blind person has felt at least once in the company of a partially-sighted, over-controlling guide? Having lost all of my useable vision, I have had to assume both roles, so I know the resentment Stevie must have felt from time-to-time toward Ted, regardless of Ted’s good intentions.
So the fact that Ted was also “white-looking” when this happened, and we know it did, I suspect only further enforced the impression among most of those associated with MoTown that he was nothing more than Stevie’s “white overseer”. Even if Ted did get it right most of the time. His position of power, and his white skin, I would suspect almost certainly made this an unwinnable situation for Ted Hull.
The politically correct crowd might pretend it was good for race relations — the black kid and the white tutor. However, the circumstances made it impossible for both Stevie and Ted…because it wasn’t ever going to be a private relationship, and as I said, any sort of discipline or friction would likely be misconstrued by anyone watching them interact.
Also, remember it wasn’t a secret within the black community Dr. King had been sent a letter by the FBI, telling him to kill himself. And so everyone at MoTown knew the government had tried to infiltrate every organization that was promoting the interests of African-Americans. So based on my research, I suspect there were many of those at MoTown who believed right from the beginning Ted Hull was an informant for the government.
I’m sure, if a black tutor were approached by the government and asked to inform on what was going on at MoTown during the turbulent 1960’s, they would have most likely said “FUCK NO!” Or maybe, they might agree, only to provide the FBI, or some other agency, with false information.
So, given this, it’s very possible Ted Hull was chosen because he was white, and would be more likely then a black tutor to provide some information to the government. If true, Dr. Thompson may have not ever known about this plan, and Hull may have actually been recommended by someone else from outside of the blind school.
And maybe it was someone who wanted a “white-looking” guy just like Ted to keep an eye on MoTown for them. And if they found out and killed Ted or his wife because of it, maybe they’re thinking was, that would be even better…it would definitely mean the end of MoTown!
We know the superintendent of the blind school was required to report everything that was going on at the school directly to the governor’s office. Most states are set up in this same way, where the state agency and the schools for the blind were both directly under the supervision of the governor, or a special board set up by the governor, as it is here in Oregon.
At that time, George Romney was the governor of Michigan. So did George Romney know us younger blind boys were being forced to swim in the nude, and being touched and filmed by the school’s wrestling coach? And Governor Romney didn’t care what was happening to us at his school, then why would he care about some “Negro” kid from Detroit who happened to play piano?
I wonder now why the school had a set of bleachers and what seemed like a camera in the pool area since the school for the blind had never participated in any sort of swimming competition, as far as I know. And if there was a camera, as I suspect, then how can the State of Michigan justify making any of us boys get undressed and get into the pool (with the coach)? And did the State of Michigan have aright to let any adult touch us, for any reason, while we were naked? Do you wonder why, just a few miles away, Larry Nasser also got away with his crimes for so many years…
So let’s ask, was the gymnasium and pool, that also had a secluded, underground wrestling room, built during Romney’s term, which ran from about 1960 to 1972?bet you
If you don’t know, many blamed Governor George Romney for creating the plan to forcibly bus all the kids in the Detroit area, allegedly to create racial equality. But as I had mentioned in the beginning, it didn’t work.
By the time he left office in 1970, almost everyone in Michigan, other than the Mormons, pretty much hated George Romney and blamed him for both the “white flight” and the growing violence in Detroit during the 1960’s. Obviously, there was some good reason to feel this way, since his forced busing plan didn’t work, as the racial divide grew significantly during his three administrations.
so, as I explain below, many of these same people, who were suspicious about Ted Hull, were also openly questioning Stevie’s blindness, which only increased the friction between at MoTown. Was that the plan? Was the government hoping someone would assume he was a rat and kill Ted Hull? We now know “they” wanted Dr. King to kill himself, so how far would “they” go to break up the amazing MoTown machine? We know many of those associated with MoTown actually began to hate Ted Hull, and were no longer hiding their resentment, so who knows…
For the record, to date I only have found circumstantial evidence to suggest that Ted Hull was working as an informant for the government at the same time he was tutoring Stevie. But it wouldn’t surprise me that we would eventually learn that he had been at the very least privately questioned (more than once) about what he observed, in the company of so many of these “radical” black musicians from MoTown…and might tell him ‘he needed to be a good American and tell them what they needed to know’. So Ted may have had no idea, when he began tutoring, about the government’s long-term plan for him–
But one person who might know all of this, if you’re interested in investing this angle.
During the 1960’s a black wrestler from the Michigan School for the Blind named Stanley Wray won three consecutive state championships against the public schools kids in Michigan. He would come to all of our home matches, and sometimes hang out behind the team during the match. I tried to talk to him once or twice, but he made it pretty clear that he didn’t much like us white-looking wrestlers, except for Ed Chapman.
I was pretty dumb about all of this back then, but now knowing the real history about Detroit, who could blame him for not trusting any of us. That’s probably why I also think the Flint water fiasco is more than a little suspicious…
So I suspect Stanley Wray, who was a friend of Stevie
Wonder’s during the 1960’s, either knew, or suspected, Ted Hull was working as an informant for the government. And if so, I think Stanley was probably right.
for example, here’s one of the things that really trouble me about Stevie Wonder’s tutor, Ted Hull.
Shortly after their formal relationship ended in 1969,, Stevie’s career really took off. Meanwhile, Ted admits in his book that he was completely dirt poor at the time, and felt he had been cheated by MoTown when his contract ended.
So why wouldn’t he write his tell-all book immediately rather than waiting thirty years? It was a book that definitely needed to be written, a lot sooner than it was. If you’re interested in American history, it includes many very interesting stories about black history and America’s musical scene during the 1960’s.
So I have to ask, was it because many blacks associated with MoTown believed Hull was working as an informant for the government, and may have also believed that Ted Hull played a part in the death or imprisonment of some of their friends. Would Ted be placing his family in danger by writing any worthwhile book about MoTown.
And after all, does it make any sense that the FBI wouldn’t try to recruit Hull during this time. In 1967 and 1968 there were hundreds of incidents involving racial violence, and the government needed to blame the African-American community for all of it. So here’s this white guy, who they knew, as I will explain, wasn’t being treated very well by many of the blacks involved with MoTown. In many ways, Ted Hull was in the perfect position to inform, wouldn’t you say?
In his book Hull reveals that he kept Dr. Thompson informed about all of his experiences, in great detail, both good and bad. We can assume even if he waited decades to write his book, he admits saying some of this same stuff about MoTown in his reports to Dr. T.
So we can assume the FBI likely knew, perhaps maybe through the grapevine and not Dr. Thompson himself, that Hull was very unhappy with many of the blacks at MoTown. And that’s the reason Ted Hull had to be seen as being the perfect informant. Knowing what we know today about these sort of government programs which target groups, such as MoTown, it simply seems unbelievable they wouldn’t have at least tried to solicit Ted’s help, given all the racial strife around Detroit.
If Ted wasn’t an informant, and never informed on MoTown or its black musicians, wouldn’t it seem natural that he would want to tell how he was mistreated by these blacks, and maybe eve say, it was only because of the color of his skin. Surely he must have known that white America would have loved a book like this, at this time in history. Not to mention that Stevie Wonder was one of America’s most famous singers during the early 1970’s.
So maybe, despite the tons of money he could have made back then, Ted knew he had informed on Stevie Wonder and other African-American musicians and didn’t want to draw any added attention to himself or his family, until many, many years later…when any possible retaliation would be far less likely…
So back to why the great Dr. T., and I mean that sincerely, picked Ted Hull, a white, partially-sighted guy, to tutor “Little Stevie Wonder”.
Being from Tennessee, I suspect Dr. Thompson wasn’t aware of the tremendous racial tension that existed throughout the Detroit area during the 1960’s, where Hull and Wonder would be spending most of their time together.
Regardless of race, I also suspect most Michiganders could have predicted this. But Hull’s ignorance and arrogance of their struggle, as a white-looking outsider, quickly began to cost Stevie his opportunities among not only many of the other MoTown musicians, but among fans, the black club owners and the black promoters. As Ted writes about, stopped offering Stevie Wonder contracts. In addition, during this same time, Ted tells how Stevie Wonder was no longer being given the best music to record by MoTown, and its best song writers.
Ted describes how during one Christmas party, while the other guests were opening presents and bonuses from Berry Gordy and MoTown, Ted got nothing more than a “thank you” note. He describes how no one would speak to him or his wife at this party, but can’t figure out why?
It would be unfair to say Stevie Wonder didn’t receive a good academic education from Ted, but academics aren’t everything, especially to those who have faced discrimination and bigotry. This is why so many severely disabled people become great artists, and not professors or politicians.
As his book proves, Ted Hull’s inability to truly understand the struggle of the African-American community, and the subsequent birth of MoTown, was a disaster for Stevie Wonder’s early career. Ted’s inability to compromise, not surprisingly came across as being racist by many African-Americans, and Stevie paid the price. Rumors about Ted’s real role — being a possible informant, slowly gained traction around MoTown and the African-American community in Detroit.
As a result, Stevie Wonder it appears was being blackballed by much of his own community for five or six years during the 1960’s, which began shortly after Ted Hull became his tutor. however, when their relationship ended in 1969, Stevie Wonder’s career had a sudden rebirth, followed with a string of top ten hits, including what I feel was his best song so far — a song partly based on the rumors that were being spread around MoTown about both Stevie and Ted, “Superstition”.
What’s funny, is that this song is partly about how many of the same people at MoTown who resented and mistrusted ‘Ted the tutor”, were also going around telling everyone that Stevie Wonder wasn’t really blind.
so as you read how these same sort of ignorant rumors have so significantly damaged my own life for so many years, simply because I’m more capable than most blind people (like Stevie).
As you read my work, and learn about extra-ablism, you would have to agree that it’s a mighty funny coincidence?