Celebrate classical pianist and Cold War hero Van Cliburn died today after fighting bone cancer. He was 78.
The esteemed pianist played for every American president since Harry Truman, plus royalty and heads of state around the world. But he is best remembered for winning a 1958 piano competition in Moscow that helped thaw the icy rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, according to the Associated Press.
The young man from the small east Texas town of Kilgore was a baby-faced 23-year-old when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow just six months after the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik embarrassed the U.S. and inaugurated the space race.
Cliburn returned to a hero’s welcome and the ticker-tape parade — the first ever for a classical musician. A Time magazine cover proclaimed him “The Texan Who Conquered Russia.”
His win showed the power of the arts, and his popularity skyrocketed. He also used his skill and fame to help other young musicians through the Van Cliburn International Music Competition, which takes place every four years. Created in 1962 by a group of Fort Worth teachers and citizens, it remains among the top showcases for the world’s best pianists.
President George W. Bush presented Cliburn with the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — in 2003. The following year, he received the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
To read more of his obit, click here.
Watch his performance of part of Tchaikovsky and be inspired!
Our thoughts are with family, friends and fans.