Lizzo and James Madison’s Crystal Flute Are a Patriotic Sensation

The Library of Congress asked the accomplished floutist to sample its historical woodwind wares and Lizzo obliged
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R&B star Lizzo made “crystal flute” a top phrase in Google’s suggestions for searching “Library of Congress”—one of several twists no one saw coming before the singer-songwriter and accomplished flautist visited the D.C. landmark on Monday, where she filled its vaunted halls with melodious sounds from our nation’s woodwind heritage, including one Founding Father’s priceless flute.

“Hearing @lizzo play some of the Library’s priceless antique instruments on Monday was such a gift, and we were honored and happy to help her share that gift with her concert audience Tuesday night,” the Library of Congress tweeted, referring to a D.C. concert at which Lizzo played a crystal flute that belonged to fourth President James Madison.

“She is amazingly talented,” the archive’s flute curator, Carol Lynn Ward-Bamford, told the Washington Post.  She said she handed Lizzo more than a half-dozen types of flutes and the artists demonstrated tremendous virtuosity with all of them.

Ward-Bamford also reported that people in Lizzo’s entourage sang and danced when she started playing.

“That girl is filled with so much positive energy,” Ward-Bamford told WaPo. “It was one happy afternoon watching her enjoy and love being at the library and Great Hall.”

In the library’s tweet, Lizzo asks, “I can play it, or no?” as she holds one heirloom instrument. Given the nod, Lizzo follows two quick test exhalations with an octave-jumping run down the gorgeous instrument.

“This was made in, 15 what?” she asks of an ancient-looking end-blown wooden flute. “85,” a curator answers, before this too sounds resonantly in Lizzo’s hands.

Raising a glistening crystal flute in the next scene, she asks: ‘How do you play ‘Oochie Wally’ on this?” referencing a single by East Coast hip-hop artist Nas and Bravehearts that was almost certainly not on the official POTUS playlist of 1810.

The Madison flute that Lizzo borrowed for her D.C. concert was made in 1813 by Claude Laurent, the name and date engraved on its surface. James Madison would have received it with a few more years left in his White House.

Though some historians suggest that Dolly Madison saved the flute when she fled the White House as the damned British closed in to burn it down during the War of 1812, it’s clearly never been hotter than it is this now.


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