Legendary Pianist Van Cliburn Dies At 78

Van Cliburn, the only solo musician of any genre to receive a ticker-tape parade in New York City and the first classical musician to sell a million albums, died Wednesday. The Texan soared to world fame in 1958 when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, at the height of the Cold War.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And let's remember, now, a brilliant pianist who turned music into a bridge between the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Van Cliburn passed away yesterday, at his home in Texas, at 78.

Back in 1958, the young Cliburn was an unknown when he went to Moscow and wowed the country. In winning the Tchaikovsky International Music Competition, he beat Soviet musicians playing Russian music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "PIANO CONCERTO NUMBER ONE")

MONTAGNE: In America, Van Cliburn's performance was seen as a small victory in the Cold War, and his career took off. His recording of Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto Number One" became the first million-selling classical album in history.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, TCHAIKOVSKY "PIANO CONCERTO NUMBER ONE")

MONTAGNE: Even when Van Cliburn had all but retired, he remained hugely popular in Moscow. When he returned as an honorary judge for the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2011, Van Cliburn was mobbed in the streets by fans who had not forgotten what he had done more than 50 years ago.

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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