Namesake of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and living proof that great music trumps politics, Van Cliburn was born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1935. He studied classical piano from an early age, playing his first public concert at age four and matriculating at The Julliard School at 17. In 1958, Cliburn traveled to Moscow to participate in the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. The American's victory in the competition launched his career as a concert pianist and, perhaps more importantly, briefly thawed the icy grip of the Cold War. Cliburn's win was front-page news around the world, and the pianist was rewarded with a ticker-tape parade through New York City. He remains the only classical musician so feted.

Cliburn's most famous recordings are of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. The former was the first classical recording to go platinum.

Cliburn currently resides in Fort Worth, Texas, home to the competition which bears his name.

Editors Note: Van Cliburn died on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 after a long battle with bone cancer. He was 78 years old.

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