Chapter 4

A Legend in
Classical Music

Uniting Nations Once Again

In 1987 after almost a decade of Van’s “intermission”, he triumphantly returned to public life to perform for President Reagan and the First Lady at the White House for a State Dinner honoring Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa.

Van Cliburn shaking hands with Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa

Reminiscent of Van’s national love for United States culture, and love for Russia, he played "Moscow Nights.” Tensions eased and once again for a moment, two nations sang in harmony because of Van’s piano.

A Quiet Spotlight

While never quite returning to the fast-paced tours of the 1960s and 1970s, Van Cliburn continued to perform throughout the end of the 20th century. He honored the stage of Carnegie Hall, played the National Anthem on opening day of the Texas Rangers Stadium, returned to Chicago, and even performed a sold out show at his hometown in Kilgore, Texas.

"He's a superstar, but there's a humbleness about him and I admire that."

-Audience Member at Chicago Grant Park, 1994

Van and his beloved mother, Rildia Bee in 1988 at a function.

No Place Like Home

Van lived in New York for years, but always visited his mother in Texas as often as he could. In 1985, he finally moved to Fort Worth to live with her. His devotion to Rildia Bee, his first teacher, loving mother, and dear friend, never waned even upon her death in 1994.

Van receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom

At the turn of the century, Van Cliburn began receiving many honorary awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Kennedy Center Honors, and induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Van recieving The Order of Friendship of Peoples in 2004 from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Van continued to receive praise and awards in his beloved Russia, given The Order of Friendship of Peoples by President Vladimir Putin in 2004. The Friendship of Order of Peoples rewards, "Russian and foreign nationals whose work, deeds and efforts have been aimed at the betterment of relations with the Russian Federation and its people".

Van receiving The National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in 2011.

Van received the 2010 National Medal of the Arts. It is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government. The medal is awarded to those who "are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the U.S."

Music is Forever

Van Cliburn passed away in 2013 after a long life of loving music, art, culture, and people. His legacy continues on through his accomplishments and The Cliburn International Competition – which continues to encourage and produce todays' young classical pianists from all over the world.

"Without [music], your life is incomplete."

-Van Cliburn 1934-2013