Harvey Lavan "Van" Cliburn, Jr., (pron.: /ˈklaɪbɜrn/; July 12, 1934 – February 27, 2013) was an American pianist who achieved worldwide recognition in 1958 at the age of 23, when he won the first quadrennial International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War.
His mother, an accomplished pianist who had studied under a student of Franz Liszt, discovered him playing at age three and mimicking one of her students. She began his own lessons. He developed a rich, round tone and a singing voice-like phrasing, having been taught from the start to sing each piece.
Van Cliburn toured domestically and overseas. He played for royalty, heads of state, and every U.S. president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama.He was the first classical recording artist to have an album, his recording of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, sell more than 1 million copies.
I appreciate more than you will ever know that you are honoring me, but the thing that thrills me the most is that you are honoring classical music. Because I'm only one of many. I'm only a witness and a messenger. Because I believe so much in the beauty, the construction, the architecture invisible, the importance for all generations, for young people to come that it will help their minds, develop their attitudes, and give them values. That is why I'm so grateful that you have honored me in that spirit.