"I am confident that the enduring beauty of his art will sustain his legendary status for years to come," President Barack Obama said in a statement that was read during the service.
Cliburn also used his skill and fame to help other young musicians through the Van Cliburn International Music Competition, held 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. The next competition, to be held in May and June, is being dedicated to Cliburn's memory.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Cliburn helped keep the state at the center of the arts "and in that way, Van lives on."
Cliburn was born Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr. on July 12, 1934, in Shreveport, La., the son of oilman Harvey Cliburn Sr. and Rildia Bee O'Bryan Cliburn. At age 3, he began studying piano with his mother, herself an accomplished pianist who had studied with a pupil of the great 19th century Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt.
The family moved back to the east Texas town of Kilgore within a few years of his birth.
Cliburn won his first Texas competition when he was 12, and two years later he played in Carnegie Hall as the winner of the National Music Festival Award. At 17, Cliburn attended the Juilliard School in New York. Between 1952 and 1958, he won all but one competition he entered. By age 20, he had played with the New York Philharmonic and the symphonies of most major cities.
Despite his phenomenal success over five decades, Cliburn remained humble and gracious, friends said.
The Rev. Brent Beasley said Cliburn gave beauty back to God and to the world, "and we are profoundly grateful."