The Library of Congress allowed Lizzo to play James Madison’s crystal flute

Wednesday morning, I saw a cute Twitter video of Lizzo playing James Madison’s crystal flute on stage in DC. My only thought was “wow, that’s so cool!” That was it. I didn’t even think the story was important or notable enough to cover. I mean, “Pop star borrows dead president’s flute” is just kind of random? Well, the story how Lizzo got her hands on J.Maddy’s flute has an interesting backstory in and of itself, but the whole reason I’m writing about it now is because white supremacist MAGA trashbags are super-salty that a Black woman put her lips on a white president’s flute. Or something.

First, let’s delve into the backstory of how Lizzo came to borrow Maddy’s flute. The flute was made for James Madison by Claude Laurent of Paris in 1813, and it was believed to be one of the treasured items saved by Dolley Madison when the British set fire to the White House in 1814. The crystal flute was handed down to James Madison’s son John Payne Todd, who then gave the flute to Dr. Cornelius Boyle in his will, likely to cover some debt which Payne Todd had accrued during his life. The Boyle family was in possession of the flute until the early 20th century, when they sold it to Dayton C. Miller with the understanding that the flute would eventually go to an important museum. When Miller died, his entire collection (crystal flute included) of wind instruments was donated to the Library of Congress. Which is how James Madison’s crystal flute ended up in the Library of Congress archives. The Library of Congress invited noted flautist Lizzo to see their wind instrument archives, and they also encouraged her to try out several instruments. Hours after her visit to the Library of Congress, some employees attended her DC concert and allowed her to play the crystal flute on stage:

So, all of this is super-cool, right? I knew that the Library of Congress – and the Smithsonian – kept historical pieces like this, but I never would have thought that the LoC would be cool enough to invite Lizzo in to check out all of their cool historical wind instruments. These pieces are art and history, but they’re also living pieces which can still make music in the year of our lord Beyonce 2022. So, no, I don’t have any issue with Lizzo playing J. Maddy’s flute. But the usual suspects are big mad about it.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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53 Responses to “The Library of Congress allowed Lizzo to play James Madison’s crystal flute”

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  1. AA says:

    As someone who’s played the flute for a very long time, I can say Lizzo is really good. Beautiful tone and technique, can tell she’s had serious training. I think it’s amazing she played his flute. People are crazy.

    • Enny says:

      I honestly had no idea she was a classically trained flautist and it makes me love her even more. What a cool moment for her to see and play all those historic instruments, and what a treat for her audience!

      • AA says:

        I knew she played but I had no idea she was classically trained, either. It was totally cool! And all this publicity it’s getting will hopefully encourage kids who would have never thought of playing become interested.

  2. Snuffles says:

    And she played it BEAUTIFULLY!

  3. Plums says:

    TIL Lizzo is a classically trained flautist. Those videos of her playing in the Library of Congress are awesome. And I never would have seen them if white supremacists didn’t throw a hissy fit about it, compelling Black Twitter to virally clown on them! Thanks, white supremacists!

    • SA says:

      Everything about this clip of Lizzo makes me smile. What a treat. She is a classically trained flautist giving off adorable band-nerd vibes!

    • molly says:

      Like, if she went up there and carelessly honked around on an instrument she’d never played and twirled it like a baton, yeah, get huffy about that. But she’s a classically trained flautist who clearly has deep appreciation and respect for music.

      I think this is SUCH a cool story, and I love how tickled everyone involved was about it.

    • LAR says:

      It was so cool to learn that! I loved the video; what a nice treat for everyone.

    • sunny says:

      I adore when she busts out the flute. She is such an accomplished artist. I saw the artistic director on my local symphony tweeting her an invite to come play with them- which I would just LOVE to see.

    • JDMyrick says:

      Many thanks from me too!

  4. Snideysense says:

    None of these angry idiots had any idea this flute existed in the first place (or probably even that the LOC had a wind instrument archive at all) but now they are super mad about a “national treasure” (that they didn’t even know about) being disrespected? Please.

    On a side note, I saw Lizzo in concert last night in Philadelphia and she was phenomenal. It was the best concert I have ever been to and I highly, highly recommend everyone get tickets if she’s coming to your city on her tour. She is amazing, the night was so fun and positive and special, and she just poured everything into it. It was fantastic. I’m in a good mood all day today because it was so fun. Also it was the first time I ever got to see someone do a flute riff in the middle of a song. 🙂

    • lucy2 says:

      It’s like the Dr. Seuss books and stuff, they have no idea and don’t care about it, until some change happens and then suddenly their lives are ruined…but something that doesn’t affect them at all.

      I think this is awesome, it was a great way for the LOC to get a little publicity for their collection (who knew we had a flute vault?) and Lizzo is great and talented, and what a cool experience for her too!

      • BeanieBean says:

        I thought the LOC was just books; flutes, who knew? If I ever get to DC again, I’m going to add that place as one to visit.

      • Lightpurple says:

        Same crew of bigoted idiots: Ben Shapiro and Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire. Shapiro seems to have an incredible hold on conservatives

    • Lightpurple says:

      @BeanieBean, not sure where you live but many of our libraries, both public and university, are full of such treasures and librarians love to show them off. Contact the largest or oldest libraries near you to inquire whether they have any special collections. I worked in special collections at the BPL when I was in school and got to work with amazing objects (a Babylonian cuneiform!, marionettes, dolls, blue prints, sculptures, instruments, Shakespeare folios) all while sitting under a painting by Winslow Homer in an office off a room painted by John Singer Sargent. Libraries are fabulous places.

      • BeanieBean says:

        OMG, I truly had no idea!! Thanks, Lightpurple! This sort of thing is right up my alley. And wowzers, my first foray into graduate school was for Mesopotamian Archaeology; I think those little cuneiform tablets are so fascinating! Lucky you!

  5. Muggs says:

    I’d seen the controversy and scrolled past but I’m glad I finally took the time to listen. Her playing is so beautiful ! I would 100% go to the Lizzo Orchestra show!!!

  6. GreenBunny says:

    Imagine going to the Smithsonian thinking it’s just another day and being treated to Lizzo playing the flute in that space with that amazing sound. It gave me goosebumps and I’m sad I didn’t get to experience it live.

  7. Becks1 says:

    I loved this story when I first heard it and I LOVE the meltdown from the MAGAs lol. My favorite tweet was something like, things MAGAs didn’t know existed but are now really mad about it – JM’s crystal flute and black mermaids.

    They’re having a bad month aren’t they 😂😂😂

    • Lightpurple says:

      The leaders of the “black mermaids are cultural appropriation” and “Lizzo desecrated our cherished history” outrage are Ben Shapiro and Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire, who interrupted their war on trans kids (bomb & death threats to children’s hospitals & rabid support of FL’s “don’t say gay” law) to spend nearly 3 days screaming about Lizzo and the flute. Shapiro is an odious, petty bigot, who specializes in attacks on Black women. These fake outrages usually coincide with something they want kept quiet, like Ginni Thomas’s 1/6 committee interview or Trump defying the special master.

      I worked in special collections at Boston Public Library while in college. Our major libraries are full of such treasures and we don’t know it. Those librarians were as excited as Lizzo to show off the sound of that beautiful instrument.

  8. Blithe says:

    I love EVERYTHING about this story. I only wish that I could have been there to applaud both Lizzo and Carla Hayden.

    • Alarmjaguar says:

      Exactly – lots of love for Carla Hayden, the first African American and first woman to serve as Librarian of Congress! She made this happen and it made me so happy!

  9. girl_ninja says:

    None of those MAGA losers even know about the crystal flute until Lizzo the Great made music dance from it. Toll-ass punks.

  10. MsIam says:

    Beautiful! If the preservationists at the LOC were fine with it then the MAGAs can have several seats.

  11. Denise says:

    She played really beautifully. I’d listen to a full album of Lizzo playing the flute.

  12. Murphy says:

    This is the coolest thing I’ve seen all year

  13. Well Wisher says:

    She’s an original. A very talented person.
    Impressive. The melodic sounds aaahhha.

  14. phlyfiremama says:

    This was awesome! Watching her play in the video from LOC was ethereally beautiful. ❣️

  15. Bettyrose says:

    The bar has really been raised on insane outrage. “Bbbut it’s our national flute that means so much to this nation.”

  16. J. Maddy. 😂😂😂

  17. Riley says:

    As a librarian, former flautist, and Lizzo fan… I love all of this so much.

  18. Christine says:

    My favorite argument I saw yesterday was something like “I thought the woke liberals wanted to destroy history like they did the statues!!!!” As if a statue celebrating an enslaver is remotely the same thing. Meanwhile Trump could shove the same flute up his butt and the MAGAts would celebrate how amazing he is.

    Love this for Lizzo and obviously the Library of Congress is excited as well. Who knew they had such a massive flute collection!? Makes you wonder what other treasures they have.

  19. ChillinginDC says:

    Racists going racist. It was so embarrassing to see how many white men and women lost it. I was disappointed at some librarians having a fit about this too. I am glad LOC put everyone in their place about it too.

    To people trying to compare this to Kim Kardashian and the Marilyn dress, not even a little are these the same things.

  20. BeanieBean says:

    Yay, finally! I read about this earlier in the week & was hoping you’d cover it. I found the whole thing enchanting. Lizzo was so excited to be there & I love that they let her try out the various flutes. Somehow I missed knowing that she was a classically trained flautist. Imagine being a tourist in the Library of Congress & hearing Lizzo play so beautifully in the rotunda! That there’s MAGA backlash is unsurprising, but disappointing. I hope she doesn’t let that rob her of her joy.

  21. AmelieOriginal says:

    She didn’t even play the flute all that long at her concert? It was like one note?? I was kind of disappointed she didn’t play it longer (I get it, it’s a fragile instrument!) but then I saw all the clips shared by the Library of Congress and it looks she played the flute (or several old flutes?) in what looked like to be the lobby of the Library of Congress building and it went for quite a bit. It was so cool! The acoustics were great as the sound resonated all around! I wonder if they approached her? I wouldn’t guess that the Library of Congress had a whole collection of historic flutes in their archives!

    The Library of Congress also tweeted a bunch of the unusual stuff in their archives and they have all sorts of weird stuff lol, I started following them on Twitter!

    • BeanieBean says:

      The head librarian (not sure of her correct title), tagged Lizzo in a tweet about the flute collection, inviting her to come visit when she came to town for her concert. Lizzo saw that U& responded, and the rest is history!

      • Alarmjaguar says:

        @BeanieBean that’s exactly what happened. The head librarian, the Librarian of Congress, is Carla Hayden. She is the first woman and first African American to hold that position!

        And history, as Lizzo said, is “freaken cool, guys!”

    • Lightpurple says:

      She played several old flutes including one that was over 600 years old and one made of plexiglass

  22. Concern Fae says:

    I hadn’t realized that the flute had gone through multiple private hands before ending up at the LOC. I guess Presidents could keep gifts they were given in office back then. Amazing how these people are acting like it’s their flute, and they should get a call before anyone is allowed to play it.

    These little private concerts happen all the time. My mom worked in DC and she got last minute invitations to the concerts of well known musicians playing the Stradivarius instruments at the Smithsonian. I’m sure the same happens at university and museum collections.

  23. Betsy says:

    Lynda Carter is right. When I worked at an institution with a large collection of string instruments, it was a special joy to hear the Strads played before opening in order to keep them healthy.

    Screw all the donut heads who are mad that a Black woman played a flute belonging to a slaveholding founder.

    (Is anyone else surprised that a crystal flute was a thing? This was news to me but then I never knew much about wind instruments)

    • Bettyrose says:

      I love the idea of a crystal flute. It’s like I’m at a Ren fair just imagining it. But I’m having trouble believing the entire yokel population feels a strong sentimental draw to this particular object.

  24. Jais says:

    Love everything about this and Lizzo just made the LOC look cool as hell. Not to say the library wasn’t before but what a fantastic spotlight.

  25. Alice in wonderland says:

    This is so cool of Lizzo and LoC!

  26. CC says:

    Oh man, Lizzo foiled the right-wing plot to clone James Madison from the 200 year old trace DNA he left on the mouthpiece of that flute.

  27. L4Frimaire says:

    I’m obsessed with this story. Brings out the history geek in me. Love that she did this and how cool it is for the Library of Congress. It’s amazing the reaction of the right wing psychos who probably never knew about this instrument or that the LOC had an extensive instrument collection. The meltdowns were epic and quite pathetic. Lizzo playing that flute had done a lot more for music education and history than these whining racists who want to ban the teaching of actual history . Madison was the one who decided to define the enslaved as 3/5ths of a person so Lizzo playing his flute or a black man portraying him in Hamilton is a fitting tribute and rebukes him, but honors the principles or freedom he selectively fought for.

    • Edna X Mode says:

      Lizzo was so great; and a crystal flute! i never heard of such a thing. I loved her twerking with the flute ; fabulous. she’s a magical fairy. Those gopers try to ruin every good thing

  28. Smonty says:

    This is just so cute!

  29. jferber says:

    Lizzo can do everything.

  30. Christina says:

    The videos of her playing at the Library of Congress brought tears to my eyes. She is very special, and beloved, and she is the perfect person to emphasize the importance of these historical instruments to the public.

    My daughter is also a classically trained artist who enjoys making R&B, rap, and pop music. Seeing Lizzo being appreciated and given this deserved honor as a Black woman in the entertainment world is everything. My kid is mixed race Black and Mexican. Women, much less minority women, much less Black women, are treated with such honor. She is gifted and deserves to be able to access historical instruments and delight the living with sounds from the past. White men always get this.

    My heart is full. Thank you, Kaiser. For putting all of the videos together. I am a teary puddle, but a happy, proud one.

  31. Megs283 says:

    About 15 years ago I went to a concert at the LOC, with musicians who were playing historical instruments from the collection. I am not musically inclined, so the experience was largely wasted on me… but I CAN say that those people were much less famous than Lizzo and still had access.

    Every time I slow down and listen to Lizzo’s music, I become even more impressed by her talent. And as a school librarian… I am in AWE of this LOC/Lizzo collab!

  32. JRenee says:

    I like it! She played beautifully too.