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Byron Janis, Renowned Classical Pianist, Dead at 95

The musician was known for performing at the 1960 Cultural Exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union

<p>Dario Cantatore/Getty</p> Byron Janis at Stenway Hall in New York City on Nov. 29, 2010

Dario Cantatore/Getty

Byron Janis at Stenway Hall in New York City on Nov. 29, 2010

Byron Janis, a world renowned classical pianist, has died. He was 95.

The American musician — who has been hailed as one of the greatest pianists of his time and known for playing in Russia amid Cold War tensions with the U.S. — died on March 14. His wife, Maria Cooper Janis, daughter of filmmaker Gary Cooper, confirmed Byron's death on social media and his website on Sunday.

Cooper Janis shared a photo of the late piano player along with a note addressed “To Our Musical Family.”

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“Thank you for the years of love and support,” she wrote. “The passing of Byron, my husband of 58 years is such a loss to me and the world.”

The statement continued, “Byron understood that music has many powers including that of bridging barriers that seem insurmountable and in today's fractured world, let us remember and practice this to honor his legacy.”

The classical artist was born Byron Yanks on March 24, 1928 outside of Pittsburgh and proved to be a piano prodigy from a young age.

According to the biography on his official website, the performer was just 15 when he made his orchestral debut with Arturo Toscanini's NBC Symphony Orchestra, and by 16, he became the first student to study under Vladimir Horowitz  at the Pittsburgh Symphony.

<p>H. William Tetlow/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty</p> Byron Janis at his New York City apartment in January 1968

H. William Tetlow/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty

Byron Janis at his New York City apartment in January 1968

He garnered his first record deal with RCA Victor at 18, making him the youngest artist to ever do so at the time. By 20, he made his Carnegie Hall debut.

Throughout his career, Byron released a handful of albums with his recordings of famed concertos by Chopin, Liszt, Mozart, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff, among other music. He also composed, including the score for a Broadway rendition of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Byron famously became an artistic hero during the Cold War when he was chosen to perform at the 1960 Cultural Exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, later touring the latter nation in 1962.

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Years later, Byron reflected on the significance of the moment in an October 2017 interview with Vantage Music. He said, “What I did was important because it showed how music could change people’s feelings.”

“By intermission, the audience was on their feet applauding. By the end of the concert, they came to the stage and some of them were weeping,” he continued. “I felt they wept because they realized that their ‘enemy’ was a human being, just like them. It was unbelievable to see the change from hostility to admiration.”

<p>Cindy Ord/Getty</p> Maria Cooper Janis and Byron Janis at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscar Night Celebration at the 21 Club on Feb. 26, 2012

Cindy Ord/Getty

Maria Cooper Janis and Byron Janis at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscar Night Celebration at the 21 Club on Feb. 26, 2012

The pianist/composer also faced health struggles over the course of his career, as he was diagnosed in both hands and wrists with psoriatic arthritis in 1973. He eventually became outspoken about the cause once Nancy Reagan publicly revealed his diagnosis after a 1985 White House performance, announcing him to be the National Ambassador to the Arts of the Arthritis Foundation.

Byron received many high honors, including Yale University's Stanford Fellowship, the Commander of the French Legion d'Honneur for Arts and Letters and the Grand Prix du Disque, among other accolades. He was also written into Congressional Record for his achievements in music and diplomacy.

In an August 2017 interview with NPR, Byron opened up about his musical calling.

“Music is and was my life,” he shared. “Fortunately I was born with a talent. I am passionate about making music. At moments I was going to give up, because it was very difficult, but I persisted. I said, 'No, no, no keep going, come on. You'll be able to do it.' It was like a mind over matter thing. And it works."

The musician is survived by his wife, Maria. During his first marriage to June Dickson Wright, he welcomed one child, Stefon, who died in 2017.

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Read the original article on People.