“Thank you to the Library of Congress for preserving our history and making history fun. The story is f*cking cool guys.

The photo provided by the Library of Congress shows a combination of James Madison’s flute engraved with his name and the year 1813. The Madison instrument was made for the second inauguration by a Parisian craftsman. Library of Congress via The New York Times

Lizzo looked extremely nervous as she walked across the stage in a shiny mesh leotard with pantyhose and sequin combat boots.

The classically trained flutist who started playing in the fifth grade and considered studying at the Paris Conservatory, weaved the flute into many of her songs, played virtually with the New York Philharmonic, and her flute, Sasha Flute, even had her own Instagram page.

But waiting for her Tuesday night was an exquisite (and very brittle) musical instrument that had come to her concert in Washington under strict protection: a crystal flute that a French craftsman and watchmaker made for President James Madison in 1813.

“I’m scared,” said Lizzo, taking the shiny instrument from Carol Lynn Ward-Bamford, curator of the Library of Congress, who carefully removed the flute from its specially prepared protective case. It’s a crystal. It’s like playing from a glass.

As the crowd roared, Lizzo played a note, stuck out her tongue in amazement, then played another note, trilling it, twerking in front of thousands of cheering fans. Then she carried the flute over her head, looked at the crowd in Capital One Arena one last time, then handed it over to the Ward-Bamford.

“I was just twerking and playing James Madison’s crystal flute from the 19th century,” Lizzo announced. “We made history tonight.”

It was a symbolic moment when Lizzo, an extremely popular black singer, rapper and songwriter, played a priceless instrument that once belonged to a founder whose plantation in Virginia was built by enslaved black workers. And the flute was loaned by Carla D. Hayden, the first African American and the first woman to run the Library of Congress.

The moment came after Hayden on Friday asked Lizzo to visit the world’s largest flute collection of the library, containing some 1,700 instruments.

Hayden tweeted: “@lizzo we’d like you to come see this and even play some steam when you’re in DC next week. Like your song, they’re “Good As Hell.”

Lizzo replied without much hesitation.


Lizzo arrived on Monday with her mother and the members of her team. Hayden and members of staff ushered her into the “flute vault” and showed her around the collection, which includes pipes, piccolos, and a cane-shaped flute, which Lizzo believes can be a Christmas present.

Lizzo spent over three hours in the library trying out a few instruments, staff members said.

She played a piccolo from John Philip Sousa’s band, which was used to play solos during the premiere of his song “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” And she played a plexiglass flute, produced in 1937, filling the Main Reading Room and the marble Great Hall with ornamental music, to the delight of the librarians and the handful of researchers who happened to be there.

“Just the enthusiasm Lizzo brought to seeing the flute collection and how interesting she was,” Ward-Bamford said in an interview on Wednesday. “It was wonderful”.

Most of the collections – including the Madison crystal flute – were donated in 1941 by Dayton C. Miller, a physicist, astronomer and avid flute collector.

The Madison flute was made for its second inauguration by Claude Laurent, a Parisian craftsman who believed that glass flutes would hold their tone and tone better than the wood or ivory flutes that were common at the time.

The name of Madison, the title and the year 1813 are engraved on the silver flute wrist. “It is not clear if Madison did much to the flute other than to admire it, but it has become a family heirloom and an artifact of the era,” said the library.

The library believes that the first lady, Dolley Madison, may have saved the White House flute in 1814 when the British entered Washington during the 1812 war, although no documentation was found to support the theory.

According to the library, only 185 Laurent glass flutes have survived, and his crystal flutes are especially rare. The Library of Congress has 17 Laurent flutes.

When Lizzo asked if she could play Madison’s crystal flute at her concert on Tuesday, the library collection, conservation and preservation teams went to work, ensuring that the instrument could be safely delivered to her stage.

“It was very exciting and a bit scary,” said Ward-Bamford.

Or, as Lizzo told her cheering fans after she played the instrument, “Thank you to the Library of Congress for keeping our history up and making history crazy cool. The story is f*cking cool guys.

This article originally appeared in New York Times.

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