The renowned American classical pianist Van Cliburn died Wednesday morning at the age of 78 after losing his battle to bone cancer.
He announced he had the disease last summer.
Born in Shreveport in 1934, Cliburn moved to Kilgore with his family at the age of six.
Kilgore College Chair of Music and Dance Jeanne Johnson shared stories of her time with Van Cliburn in her music appreciation class Wednesday.
"This is the guy who proved you could do it all and you can be from a little town in Texas and still create great music and become famous in the process," said Johnson.
Cliburn studied at Kilgore College during the summers of 1951 and 1952 before attending Julliard. He was honored with a ticker-tape parade in New York City after winning the first international Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow in 1958 - a performance that is credited with thawing Cold War relations between the Soviet Union and the United States.
"When Khrushchev asked him why he was so tall, he said, well you know I'm from Texas. And he just promoted Texas any way he could," said his long-time friend Annette Morgan of Kilgore.
Cliburn's career took him around the globe, performing for presidents and world leaders, but he always stayed connected to Kilgore College.
Professors say Mr. Cliburn's generosity was felt throughout Kilgore College's music program over the years, with donations like a piano in honor of his mother.
"One of his greatest joys was hearing a young musician play gorgeously. He loved it," Morgan said.
Second year piano student Brittany Crowe never met Cliburn, but credits her career path to his international piano competition, which is held in Fort Worth every four years.
"I saw a documentary on Netflix which was about the Van Cliburn competition, and I didn't really know what to declare my major, and I wanted to be a pianist after I saw that. It was kind of like an epiphany moment," Crowe said.
Cliburn's friend Annette Morgan called him a natural mega-talent who could have been a success at so many things, but chose to make a difference through his music.
"I think he represented this country as a caring people, as a people when it's all said and done, are people who love music and love each other and just want to make a difference," she said.
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