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92-year-old Hampton alumnus Joe DeBose draws through his lens

September 14, 2021   |  

Victoria Syphoe

Victoria Syphoe

Photo courtesy of Debra DeBose

Joe DeBose is a 92-year-old, Jacksonville, Florida native, and Hampton Insitute, graduate. At the ‘Home by the Sea,” he studied mechanical engineering and after a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force, he undertook a federal government job in Washington, D.C. where he retired as one of the highest-ranking African-Americans at the bureau.


In his early years, he recalls watching his father draw trains with people looking out from the windows, and credits this to the early stages of his fascination with art. Realism and optimism are the hallmarks of his artistic style. His vivid portraits and series drawings contain unrivaled clarity and freshness that defines his style.

DeBose joined rolling out to discuss his artistic influences and HBCU roots.


Who inspired you to pursue art?
Mr.I. Emerson Bryan, my graphic arts teacher at Stanton High School in Jacksonville, FL. He also encouraged me to attend Hampton Institute, where I met my wife of 65 years, Jeanne Acree DeBose. Mr.Bryan’s son attended Hampton and so did my children, Debra and Andre, and my grandsons, Brenden and Elliott DeBose. In fact, 15 members of our extended family attended our “Home by the Sea.” It is a legacy that we are all proud of. HBCUs rock!

What are the three best things about being a creative?
I depict art in the way I see the world. My art is my art. I don’t have to defend it. It keeps me busy and my brain active.

How does music impact you? What are your top five songs?
Music is the universal language. Good music with lush instrumentation is incomparable.
My top five songs are: “So What by Miles Davis” (play this at my funeral), “Moaning” by Art Blakey, “Take the A Train” by Duke Ellington, “Funny Valentine” by Sarah Vaughn and “Poinciana” by Ahmad Jamal.

What genres of music do you like most?
Without question, jazz. When do I listen? Every day. Steve Jobs changed the world when he created the iPhone.

What’s next for you?
Waking up to see another day.

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