Kilgore College is saddened to hear the news of the passing of Van Cliburn, who grew up in Kilgore and became one of the most famous classical musicians of the 20th century.
Cliburn, a resident of Fort Worth since 1986, died this morning at the age of 78.
According to Dr. Bill Holda, KC president, Cliburn is among the most distinguished alumni of Kilgore College. Cliburn attended summer classes at KC in 1951 and 1952.
"He was a once-in-a-lifetime musician who in many ways was bigger than life," Holda said. "Whether on the musical stage or the international political stage, he was a signature individual."
Harvey Lavan "Van" Cliburn Jr. was not only a talented musician, but was also a great benefactor to the college. Giving music scholarships or making donations, he was always interested in promoting music education not only at KC, but around the world.
Born in Shreveport, La., in 1934 to Harvey Lavan Cliburn and Rildia Bee O'Bryan Cliburn, his family moved to Kilgore when he was six years old.
When he was 12 years old he won his first piano competition. In 1948, he performed at New York City's prestigious Carnegie Hall as the winner of the National Music Festival.
At age 17 he began studying at Julliard, and in 1958 at the age of 22 he broke into the international music scene as the winner of the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow.
After winning the competition, he was featured in media publications nationwide including the cover of Time Magazine with the title "The Texan Who Conquered Russia."
Cliburn's performance of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto sold more than three million copies and was the first classical recording to reach platinum recording status.
"He was so humble about it all," said Annette Morgan, KC's director of financial aid and close friend of Cliburn.
"Mrs. Cliburn was so proud of her son and was so instrumental in his success," Morgan said. "When Van was very young, his mother, who was an outstanding musician herself and a piano instructor, heard what she assumed was one of her students playing in the other room. But she was surprised to see that it was her three-year old son playing beautiful music on the piano."
At that point, Morgan said Cliburn's mother told him that if he wanted to pursue playing the piano that he must learn the proper way to play.
"She was such an encouragement to him," Morgan said. "She was so proud of the generous man that he became, and also how humble he was despite his success."
Holda said Kilgore College will always cherish the long and warm relationship the college has enjoyed with Cliburn through the years.
"His legacy and his music will continue to endure for many years henceforth," Holda said. "We extend our love and sympathy to the many individuals who have not only been affected by his life, but also with his death."