Music News & Reviews

Is this what history sounds like? Lizzo plays James Madison’s 1813 flute at DC show

Lizzo is basking in her historical glory after playing a two-century-old crystal flute previously owned by the fourth president of the United States.

The "About Damn Time" and "Truth Hurts" singer, who is a trained flautist, shared a series of videos of the landmark moment from her Tuesday concert at the Capitol One Arena in Washington, D.C.

The jubilant musician, 34, said that the Library of Congress lent her the 1813 crystal flute to briefly play onstage. The instrument was given to Madison by Claude Laurent, a Parisian watchmaker and mechanic, in the early 1800s on the occasion of his second inauguration, according to the Library of Congress.

"YALL.. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS LET ME PLAY THEIR HISTORIC 200 YEAR OLD CRYSTAL FLUTE ON STAGE TONIGHT— NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE… NOW YOU DO," she said, posting a clip on Instagram.

In the video, the bedazzled performer gently took the instrument from its handler, and immediately said "I'm scared" into the microphone.

"It's crystal, it's like playing out of a wine glass, b—, so be patient," she added.

The Grammy and Emmy Award winner then played a few notes, appearing in shock and awe at the "trilling" sound. Seconds later, she triumphantly — and gently — handed the instrument back to its handler, Library curator Carol Lynn Ward-Bamford, who then put it back in its box.

"I just twerked and played James Madison's crystal flute from the 1800s! We just made history tonight," she proclaimed to the audience. "Thank you to the Library of Congress for preserving our history and making history freaking cool. History is freaking cool, you guys!"

Back on social media, the Yitty shapewear founder gleefully posted another video capturing the moment.

"YALL WE GOT A BETTER VIDEO— YEAH IM DOUBLE POSTING BUT IM THE FIRST & ONLY PERSON TO PLAY THIS PRESIDENTIAL CRYSTAL FLUTE ITS LITERALLY AN HEIRLOOM— LIKE… AS A FLUTE PLAYER THIS IS ICONIC AND I WILL NEVER BE OVER IT" she wrote.

On Twitter, Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress, congratulated the musician on her accomplishment.

"This makes my heart swell," Hayden replied in response to Lizzo's first video. "@lizzo you are a gift to all of us. And it's YOU who just made history much more cooler. We appreciate all the love at the concert last night. We can't wait to have you back. #LizzoAtLOC"

The Library of Congress' official Twitter account also reassured followers that the piece made it back safely.

"We just did a DNA test. Turns out: It's 100% that [crystal] flute @lizzo played at her D.C. stop on the #SpecialTour tonight," the tweet said. "It's safe & sound back at the Library now. Thank you @CapitolPolice for escorting it."

When Lizzo asked whether she could play the flute at the concert, the Library's collection, preservation and security teams coordinated the outing.

"When an item this valuable leaves any museum or library, for loan or display in an exhibition, preservation and security are the priorities," the library said in a Wednesday blog post. "At the Library, curators ensure that the item can be transported in a customized protective container and a Library curator and security officer are always guarding the item until it is secured once more."

The musician also got her flowers across social media, with fans and followers acknowledging the momentous occasion.

"This is the most high fantasy thing I've ever seen in the real world omg," commented musician Grimes. "A mythical crystal flute no one has ever heard play? This is some elf s— Congrats"

"Lizzo, a Black female superstar, collaborating with Carla Hayden, the first African American and first woman Librarian of Congress, to use a flute from James Madison, the Founding Father who originated the 3/5 Compromise and also the Library of Congress itself? The symbolism!!!" observed law professor and columnist Tiffany C. Li.

But it wasn't happenstance that crossed the musician with the historic instrument. It was Twitter.

Last Friday, Hayden saw that Lizzo's Special tour would be heading to D.C. this week and decided to titillate her with the library's "world's largest flute collection."

Lizzo took the bait and replied the next day with: "IM COMING CARLA! AND I'M PLAYIN THAT CRYSTAL FLUTE!!!!!"

She and the library coordinated a meet-up on Monday that involved her practicing with the instrument prior to the concert, but only after the library's curators in the music division made sure that it could be played safely and without damage, the library said.

"This sort of thing is not as unusual as it might sound. Many of the Library's priceless instruments are played every now and again, even the five-stringed instruments by Antonio Stradivari," the library said, some of which were given to the library with the stipulation that they be played occasionally.

"Lizzo reverently took Madison's crystal flute in hand and blew a few notes. This isn't easy, as the instrument is more than 200 years old. She blew a few more when she was in the Great Hall and Main Reading Room. Then, reaching for a more practical flute from the collection, she serenaded employees and a few researchers. It filled the space with music as sublime as the art and architecture," the blog said.

"Cameras snapped and video rolled. For your friendly national library, this was a perfect moment to show a new generation how we preserve the country's rich cultural heritage. The Library's vision is that all Americans are connected to our holdings. We want people to see them."

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©2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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This story was originally published September 28, 2022 1:08 PM.

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