Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes

Myrtle David, The DeBose Foundation

All artists have one thing in common: A teacher who once noticed a spark and motivated each artist to move forward with his or her talent.

That search for the spark has kept Myrtle David, executive director of the DeBose Foundation, involved with the nonprofit organization since its inception as a piano competition in 1974.

“If you have had the benefit of that type of nurturing, you pass on that motivation,” David says. “Art is not a private endeavor. It is very much a shared endeavor.”

The DeBose Foundation, later incorporated in 1986, was formed to fill the gaps left by the reduction and even elimination of arts curricula in public and private schools.

The foundation hosts the DeBose Fine Arts Festival Series-National Piano Competition each year with performances in the literary, visual and performing arts. The festival commemorates the legacy of Southern University and A&M College Professor Tourgee DeBose, an influential African-American concert pianist.

David, a founding member of the foundation, declines to give her age—“Southern women don’t give their age; it’s their last secret”—but her years of experience and maturity haven’t stopped her from offering leadership.

When the piano competition first started, David learned to write grants and led publicity promotions in addition to her career as a music professor. Under her guidance, the foundation has grown to host the internationally known music festival, yet David still takes on the everyday tasks when necessary—from conducting performance sound checks to having the building’s air conditioning fixed.

David comes from a musical family and, as a child, her parents encouraged her to play the piano. The instrument ultimately defined her.

“That’s what I loved to do,” David says. “There was no question, there was no second choice. There was only that one thing that was big enough in my life that made me want to be connected with it in any way I could.”

David graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans and Boston University, earning advanced degrees in music and piano study.

After graduation, she taught piano at Grambling State University and later became a faculty member at Southern University, where she and other professors sought to build the school’s music department and improve its curriculum.

In 1974, David helped create the piano competition, eventually attracting performers and competitors from across the state, then the region, and today the globe.

These days, the Debose Foundation’s programs extend beyond the annual music festival to a music program for students of all ages who may not otherwise have the opportunity to study music and other performing arts.

The program has grown through the years, despite economic recessions and different trends in music, thanks to David and the other volunteers who have made it part of the Baton Rouge community. “I’ve been really fortunate to have a great gathering and a great crew,” David says.

For more information, visit

Quick Glance

What is something we don’t know about the DeBose Foundation? 
We open all our activities to private and charter schools, parochial and public schools.
How long have you been involved with the DeBose Foundation?
We just celebrated our 40th anniversary.
What do you hope to achieve?
Continuance is a word that comes to mind. To be able to continue to recognize talent in young people and to tap into their potential.

If you know someone who would make a great Woman with a Cause in 2016, let us know by emailing [email protected]!