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Shreveport remembers native son Van Cliburn

Van Cliburn Foundation

Shreveport is paying tribute to its native son Van Cliburn, the legendary pianist died Feb. 27 at his Fort Worth home. His early career was nurtured by the Shreveport Symphony community, and he never forgot that, according to Lester Senter Wilson. She’s been executive director of the Wideman International Piano Competition in Shreveport for 30 years. She said Cliburn played five times with the Shreveport Symphony, including a performance in 1972 when he celebrated the orchestra’s 25th anniversary. People packed the hall.

“That particular concert they were just hanging from the rafters, and somebody called the fire department because they had chairs in the aisles and on stage," Wilson recalled. "They made them take the chairs out of the aisles. It was quite a big ruckus, and quite a big event.”

Wilson remembers a 1977 concert when Cliburn recruited two of his dear friends to perform with him. Wilson said there was a big to-do when the former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos and opera star Placido Domingo came to Shreveport.

“Imelda Marcos would sing and Placido would sing. Then, Placido would play and Van would sing. They just had such great times and parties," Wilson said. "They created wonderful memories for each other.”

Cliburn’s father, an oilman, relocated the family to Kilgore, Texas, when he was in elementary school. He graduated Kilgore High School and went on to study at the Julliard School in New York.

Cliburn burst onto the international stage in 1958 as winner of the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow during the Cold War.

Cliburn’s funeral is set for March 3 at 3 p.m. at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth. He was 78.