Lizzo Plays James Madison’s Crystal Flute Onstage During DC Concert: NPR


Lizzo poses after receiving an award for ‘Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls’ at the 74th Primetime Emmys in Los Angeles earlier this month.

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Lizzo poses after receiving an award for ‘Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls’ at the 74th Primetime Emmys in Los Angeles earlier this month.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Some people visit Washington, DC for the tourist attractions, such as monuments and museums. They probably don’t expect to see history made at a pop concert – but that’s what happened to an arena full of fans at Lizzo’s concert on Tuesday night.

The superstar singer, rapper and classically trained flautist took a quick but memorable break from the setlist of ‘The Special Tour’ to play a crystal flute that belonged to former President James Madison and had been loaned to him by the Library of Congress.

This makes Lizzo the first and only person to play the secular flute, she said in a tweet.


A French flute made the ornate instrument in 1813 specifically for Madison in honor of its second inauguration, according to the Library of Congress. It’s possible the flute was one of a handful of valuables former first lady Dolley Madison took with her from the White House as she fled just before British troops set fire to Washington, DCin 1814.

So how did it make its way onto the Capital One Arena stage and into the hands of the chart-topping artist? With great security, is the short answer.

Here is the long version. The flute is one of more than 1,800 flutes currently living in the Library of Congress, which has the largest such collection in the world, according to Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress (a post appointed by the US president and confirmed by the Senate ). Notably, Hayden is the first woman and the first African American to hold the title.

Friday, Hayden tagged Lizzo in a tweet showcasing some of Library’s flutes — including Madison’s — and inviting her “to come see it and even play some when you’re in DC next week.”

“Like your song, they’re ‘Good as hell,'” she added, along with a blinking emoji.

Lizzo quickly responded with an enthusiastic tweet:

It should be noted that Lizzo has been has been playing the flute since she was in elementary school, first by ear and then in private lessons (she first dreamed of becoming a concert flautist before embarking on rap and singing). She pulls out her flute – which is named after Sasha after Beyonce’s “I Am Sasha Fierce” and has her own Instagram account — often, including on Saturday Night Live and at her house NPR Tiny Office Concert.

Monday, a boss tweeted that they had spotted Lizzo at the Library of Congress and that Hayden had personally asked them if it was okay with her if she broke the library’s “quiet rule” to play the flute (they said yes, of course). The Library of Congress also dropped a clue about its famous visitor, tweet a photo of a sign with Lizzo’s photo and a piece of tape reading, in capital letters, “guest flute”.

Handlers brought the flute onstage at Lizzo’s concert the next night. Dressed in a sparkly bodysuit, she gingerly accepted the instrument and carried it gingerly to the standing microphone a few feet away, remarking that “it’s like playing in a wine glass, so be patient. “.

Lizzo aligned her fingers and played a clear, reverberant note – then her eyes widened and her tongue stuck out in apparent astonishment. She played another trill while twerking to the beat, as the audience roared. After that, she returned the instrument and ran to the microphone.

“B***h, I just twerked and played James Madison’s crystal flute from the 1800s,” she exclaimed. “We just made history tonight!”

She thanked the Library of Congress for “preserving our history and making history really cool.”

Carrie Arnold, who was in the crowd on Tuesday, told NPR the moment felt like something of a celebration of progress.

“It’s not often you see the Founding Father’s personal artifacts salvaged as a symbol of pop culture and a celebration [of] Black female empowerment,” she wrote via text message. “It was such a unique moment that could only happen in DC and…the audience was proud of it.”

The library tweeted later that the flute had returned safely, courtesy of a Capitol Police escort, and hinted that she would soon share more of Lizzo’s visit.

In the meantime, DC residents as well as history buffs and Lizzo fans everywhere are amplifying the social media videos and congratulating everyone involved for making this unforgettable moment possible – and especially Lizzo for championing the importance of the story. As she said herself on stage:

“The story is really cool, guys! »


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