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It’s About (Danged) Time: Lizzo at the Library!

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Lizzo checks the sheet music while playing one of the LIbrary’s flutes. Photo: Shawn Miller.

It all started with a tweet.

Last Friday, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden saw that the one and only Lizzo was coming to D.C. for a concert. The pop megastar is a classically trained flutist. The Library has the world’s largest flute collection.

Taking to Twitter, the Librarian played matchmaker, tagging Lizzo in a tweet about the world-class flutes.

“Like your song,” she tweeted, “they are ‘Good as hell.’ ”

One of about 1,700 flutes in the collection, she teased, is the crystal flute made for President James Madison by Claude Laurent — a priceless instrument that Dolley Madison rescued from the White House in April 1814 as the British entered Washington, DC during the War of 1812.. Might she want to drop by and play a few bars?

Lizzo did a hair toss, checked her nails and took to Twitter herself. The 34-year-old has been training on the flute since she was a child. As a college student, she played in the University of Houston marching band. She even performed online with the New York Philharmonic orchestra during the pandemic.

“IM COMING CARLA! AND I’M PLAYIN THAT CRYSTAL FLUTE!!!!!” she tweeted the next day.

She pulled up to the Library on Monday. Hayden and the Music Division staff ushered her into the flute vault, giving her a tour of the highlights. It’s quite the sight. The main body of Library’s collection was donated in 1941 by Dayton C. Miller, a renowned physicist, astronomer and ardent collector of flutes who was intrigued by their acoustics. His collection includes a walking stick flute, which may now be on Lizzo’s wish list for the holidays.

Now. About that crystal flute.

Laurent was a French craftsman, a clockmaker by trade, who was born in the late 18th century. He took an interest in flutes as a pastime. He patented a leaded glass flute in 1806. Most flutes at the time were made of wood or ivory, but Laurent’s glass invention held its pitch and tone better during changes in temperature and humidity. They were popular for a few decades, but he was almost alone in making them and they faded from popularity after flutes began to be made of metal in the mid-19th century. Today, only 185 of his glass flutes are known to survive, and his crystal flutes are even rarer. The Library holds 17 Laurent flutes, by far the largest collection in the world.

They were near the height of their popularity when Laurent sent a particularly elegant crystal flute to President Madison upon the occasion of his second inauguration. Its silver joint is engraved with Madison’s name, title and the year of its manufacture — 1813. It’s not clear if Madison did much with the flute other than admire it, but it became a family heirloom and an artifact of the era.

President James Madison’s crystal flute, engraved with his name and the year it was made — 1813. Photo: Library of Congress.

Before Lizzo arrived, the Library’s curators in the Music Division made sure that it could be played safely and without damage. 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. Those, in fact, were given to the Library by Gertrude Clarke Whittall with the stipulation that they should be played from time to time. Music fans can hear the Library’s Stradivari and some of our other classic instruments — the 1654 Nicolò Amati violin and Wanda Landowska’s Challis clavichord — during the fall 2022 Concert Series.

So, Monday. Our two stars meet cute.

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.

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.

Lizzo with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in the Library’s flute vault. Photo by Shawn Miller

So when Lizzo asked if she could play the flute at her Tuesday concert in front of thousands of fans, the Library’s collection, preservation and security teams were up the challenge. When an item this valuable leaves any museum or library, for loan or display in an exhibition, preservation and security are the priorities. 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.

For obvious reasons, we don’t say much more about security in public. But when the Library sent Thomas Jefferson’s Koran to the World Expo in Dubai last year, conservation, preservation and strict environmental requirements were enforced. The Library and the State Department executed a plan to transport and securely display the Koran. A Library professional with experience preserving and maintaining the security of important cultural items accompanied the Koran at every step.

The same sort of security was in place for the Madison flute to rejoin Lizzo onstage at Capitol One Arena. When Library curator Carol Lynn Ward-Bamford walked the instrument onstage and handed it to Lizzo to a roar of applause, it was just the last, most visible step of our security package. This work by a team of backstage professionals enabled an enraptured audience to learn about the Library’s treasures in an exciting way.

“As some of y’all may know I got invited to the Library of Congress,” Lizzo said, after placing her own flute (named Sasha Flute) down on its sparkling pedestal, which had emerged minutes earlier from the center of the stage. Following the aforementioned, highly popular Twitter exchange between Lizzo the Librarian of Congress, the crowd knew what was coming.

“I want everybody to make some noise for James Madison’s crystal flute, y’all!” They made more noise than the instrument, having been at the Library for 81 years, has been exposed to in quite some time. Maybe ever.

She took it gingerly from Ward-Bamford’s hands, walked over to the mic and admitted: “I’m scared.” She also urged the crowd to be patient. “It’s crystal, it’s like playing out of a wine glass!”

Lizzo played just a few notes on the flute, “trilling” the instrument, but she threw her signature twerk into the short performance, sending the audience into a fresh frenzy.

“We just made history tonight!” she exclaimed. “Thank you to the Library of Congress for preserving our history and making history freaking cool! History is freaking cool you guys!”

And now, thanks to Lizzo, it’s just that much cooler.

Comments (77)

  1. Yeah! This is a treat. Lizzo did the nation proud! I appreciate the Library’s efforts to be a “living” library. Thank you to Lizzo and the Library… and Ms Hayden.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Carla Hayden and Lizzo, for sharing the story and treasures of the Library of Congress. What a terrific meld of minds demonstrating the many gifts we have in the Library of Congress, especially the staff!
    I love this story. Thanks, Lizzo

  3. I would love to see the video from the Crystal Flute’s performance with Lizzo at her concert!
    Another reason to ADORE LOC and Carla Hayden!

  4. As a child I played the flute myself throughout my educational career. We need more people like Lizzo to showcase how important both music education and history is to our students now more than ever. Thank you Lizzo and Carla Hayden!!!

  5. Loved loved loved this story!! Great example of why libraries are still needed and relevant.

  6. Love seeing the Library connect with culture of today! And learned a lot!

  7. This whole experience was just amazing to witness! Thank you so much to everyone involved for this spectacular gift of learning about past history and making a new historical moment in time.

  8. Such an amazing experience seeing Lizzo onstage playing last night and learning about the history of the flute!! Thank you Lizzo and the Library of Congress!

  9. Happy to be immersed in the learning experiences of life!!!!!

  10. This is simply the most magical marketing and the best thing on the internet in 2022.

  11. Exalted superlatives don’t even come close!
    Aside from Lizzo making thousands of Americans more aware of the LoC, she continues to amaze.

  12. Thank you Lizzie for sharing your gift! Thank you, Library of Congress for connecting us all in a time when pure love is greatly needed!

  13. LOVE!!

  14. This is so awesome, thank you Lizzo and LOC for putting together this fascinating peek into the archives.

  15. I was lucky enough to be at Lizzo’s concert and see and hear her play the crystal flute. It was amazing, she is amazing -her positive energy fills the room and including the LOC in the show and teaching her fans about the importance of this institution and the history lesson on crystal flutes (never even knew there was such a thing) BRAVO to Lizzo and Carla Hayden!!

  16. Go Lizzo! Super duper cool in our Nation’s Capitol City!

  17. Just Lizzo being her amazing self, as usual! Thanks for this wonderful story.

  18. Spectacular, kudos, bravo cannot do justice to pure “screening talent.” Each of us are on a journey, as we travel on this journey if we look up, many times there are people waiting to see us. Within those moments, we are no longer afraid to express who we are. Miss Lizzo is no longer afraid. As a society, it is our responsibility to ignite that fire which burns from within the soul. James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time” in my humble opinion was never meant to express anger. For me James Baldwin was trying to express the hope that, as a society, we can extinguish the fires that destroy us; so that “The Fire Next Time,” will not repeat the past devastation. “The Fire Next Time” is “Hope” to lead us on a different journey towards a more perfect Union. The collaboration between the Library of Congress and Lizzo is a “union” on a journey towards “The Fire Next Time.” Hope is on a journey to find “YOU.” Miss Lizzo, well done, well done.

  19. I actually teared up at this story. Role models – with such amazing musical and theatrical gems, and particularly those of color right now – are a treasure for our youth. Lizzo, I dearly hope you will continue to use the spotlight available to you to broadcast not only the glories of music, and of self-understanding and acceptance, but also the glories of HISTORY and LIBRARIES, esp the LOC. And kudos to the LOC staff who saw the opportunity and grabbed it.

  20. I am in awe, and always wondered if the beauties that I see in museum were sometimes played cause as a musician I feel they should feel quite lonely unused behind the glass encasing.
    I dream of playing the harpsichords of the MIM in my hometown Brussels one day, thank you for sharing this precious historical moment with us readers

  21. That was so cool! I love Lizzo!

  22. I’m not sure if Lizzo knows how important she is as a real musician and gifted singer to those that are influenced by her. It is a great moment in time to see a real creative singer, song writer and musician reach her level of success. I am excited to see her career blossom further.

  23. I enjoyed this article, the interaction and the performance, bravo!

  24. Such an amazing read and engaging collaboration. This was GOOD!

  25. As a Canadian I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog as well as seeing Lizzo do her thing creating a beautiful harmony! Who knew that the crystal as well as the plexiglass flutes even existed? I bet there were a lot of other folks just like me who are now enlightened so thank you LOC and Lizzo for expanding our universe just a little bit more!

  26. Absolutely enthralling collaboration ~ BRAVO!

  27. What an absolute disgrace. This flute is a piece of national history, an artefact of a bygone age. It was preserved through two centuries only to become a prop for a publicity stunt. This so-called “singer” is deliberately obscene and vulgar in her lyrics and performance. She hates this country and everything that James Madison and his contemporaries stood for. Because of this stunt, her brand of vulgarity and self-objectification is now normalized and promoted to millions of young girls by an office of the US Government. This wasn’t advertising, this was desecration. Shame on all of you.

  28. Thanks to Bob for posting the link to the performance. It is a beautiful experience.

  29. Tremendous story and story-telling! Well done, Carla Hayden! Long live Lizzo & LOC!

  30. I am awed by the historical significance of this! Lizzo is a hero to this 73yo ol’ flute playin’ white lady. I hope James Madison is spinning in his grave! Lizzo, so so talented, is also a good good person. What a fun day in the Flute Vault for her! Thank you, Library of Congress, and all my love to Lizzo.

  31. So incredibly cool. The young lady, the library collection and the public performance. Hopefully this will be the beginning of many more public performances with historical pieces that will draw young people into history.

  32. As a librarian, this story warms my heart. Books, and all collections, are for use. Yes, even important cultural artifacts. Keep up the great work LOC and Lizzo!

  33. Artistic endeavors cannot be locked away and held captive in a free society. Over the centuries people have fought and died to preserve freedom of speech and freedom of expression. No one person, group, organization etc, has a license to dictate the boundaries of creative expression. Anything over and above “Screaming Freedom” is tantamount to being “Stuck On Stupid.” In 1776, the colonies had an option. The colonies made a decision to reject the “King of England” because they were not “Stuck On Stupid.” Those who make a choice to “Crush” creative expression manifest divisions that are separate and unequal. Many of us admire and enjoy many different genres. The last time I checked, this is “NOT A CRIME.”

  34. History is cool. Thank you to LOC for not only preserving the past but being imaginative and creating a new parts to these stories. I am certain Lizzo loved touring the LOC! Crystal flutes, who knew? 🙂

  35. Wonderful. Thank you LOC. What a great way to facilitate access to the precious resources available. I never heard of Lizzo before and while probably not a fan per se, she was awesome, as were all the folks at LOC. Beautiful.

  36. In addition to agreeing with all but one comment above (lookin’ at you, Joshua) I really appreciate the sound of Lizzo playing in the reading room. What a fun acoustic space to hear historic instruments played! Yay to everyone at LC who made this happen. And many thanks to Lizzo for helping to bring history alive.

  37. Delightful! I’m so glad this collaboration took place. Many thanks to Carla Hayden and Lizzo, and to all other LOC staff who made the flute’’s appearance at Lizzo’s concert possible.

  38. What a joke. I was really hoping this was fake. Messing up the song she was playing…and then twerking…with the CRYSTAL FLUTE!? Why must we devalue our history for some silly feel good story?

  39. Wonderful blog post. Thank you to everyone at Library of Congress for the essential work you do in preserving history and culture heritage. Love Lizzo, glad y’all got together!

  40. Incredible job from the whole library community!

  41. I was at Lizzo’s concert and thrilled to see her play one of LC’s treasures for thousands of concert-goers. The crowd went wild, and made me proud of the place I’ve called home for 45 years. I hope she’ll come back to LC and record something on the flute for posterity.

  42. Perfect collaboration of the old and new and the ties that bind us- many congrats to the entire LOC team for the valuable work you do every single day, and for making the brilliant connection to Lizzo and her glorious talent! Well done, all!

  43. Brava and bravo to the library and Lizzo for giving this instrument another night in the spotlight!

    Libraries are so cool!

  44. Have to respond to “Joshua” (comment #28) and the absolute self-own of arguing that Lizzo hates that which James Madison and his contemporaries stood for…. He was an antifederalist and pro-slavery, so, yeah? If she were white and blonde you’d be sobbing about what an amazing moment. Anti American? She played a flute and in doing so made people more interested in flutes, history, and the LoC! I didn’t know woodwinds were anti American. And vulgar? Okay, Boomer, your racism is showing.

    And we can’t forget Christopher comment 39. Chris, sweetie, let go of your pearls and take a Xanax. Firstly, there is no musician alive who hasn’t missed a note, much less when doing so on a two hundred year old instrument.
    Secondly, twerking with a flute is an amalgamation of styles of music and dance that bring disparate crowds together and get them excited about each other and our history. Glass flute? Meh. Lizzo gonna play it? Now I’m interested. She twerked? I’m entertained enough to read about glass flutes. Thirdly, as a historian, I can say that history has no value if we lock it in amber—that thinking is why some people still think that Thomas Jefferson had a love affair with Sally Jennings when it was a man in his forties raping and impregnating a fourteen year old whom he’d enslaved. (Same age as his daughter).

    Lizzo is an incredible artist and inspiration for kids to learn instruments like the flute.

    Thanks for doing this LoC!

  45. Things this Madison flute Lizzo thing have publicized:
    – The LOC has a huge collection of musical instruments;
    – A French artisan gifted Madison with a crystal flute (who knew?);
    – Lizzo has serious flautist training & chops.
    – LOC is serious about security.
    – Museums are for everyone. The LOC belongs to all Americans.
    – History is freakin’ cool!
    Good job Library of Congress.

  46. A special thanks to THE LIBRARIAN OF CONGRESS, Dr. Carla Hayden. This is indeed “A NEW BEGINNING” 1st John 4.


  47. A special thanks to “THE LIBRARIAN OF CONGRESS,”
    DR. CARLA HAYDEN. This is indeed “A NEW BEGINNING.”
    1st John 4.

    Thank you.

  48. Am I missing the link to the video that had been posted all over LOC social media?

  49. It is disgusting that government allowed Lizzo, a racist, anti-America, performer to use a piece of American heritage, owned by someone she has repeatedly referred to as the Devil indirectly, to spread her hate and profit personally from the fame and infamy that it has brought her.

  50. Librarians (and archivists) inspire, teach and thus lead us all to a better understanding of humanity. Thanks for this most recent example from Carla Hayden (with an assist from Lizzo) of leadership and creative learning.

  51. Thank you! I don’t understand the backlash. She a wonderful artist with mad skills. You rock Library of Congress!

  52. Thank you LOC AND Lizzo for making history touchable. I am sure that the artist who created this instrument did not do so with the intent of keeping it locked away but enjoyed by all. The detractors are, as usual and thankfully continue to be, in the minority and sound ridiculously foolish. I am looking forward to more of our “treasures” being used and enjoyed by the “common” people of this country and not put on pedestals as false, unattainable gods. Rock on!

  53. Lizzo playing the flute at the Library of Congress wasn’t remarkable. The library has been holding concerts for decades and there’s a multicultural history of artists involved as well as the use of historical instruments. But let’s get real. The importance of the flute wasn’t enhanced by this. In this day and age James Madison, as with many of the founders, is viewed as a villain so why would Lizzo’s fans give a c**p about a flute he owned? This publicity stunt happened apparently for no other reason than the director of the library is a fan. The invitation was also extended to include an historical artifact, from a slave owning president, in her vulgar stage show. The symbolism of that looks very different to some.

  54. This is a great day for coming together Loc and Lizzo Job well done keep moving forward i love ❤️ Lizzo you are absolutely awesome lady keep doing you it can only get better

  55. As a retired librarian and music lover, I applaud Ms.Lawson and the LOC for seizing the opportunity to share an American treasure with the public, and especially the younger generation. Good work! Pull them into libraries by any means possible! Thank you Lizzo for your abilities to sparkle and share the spotlight ❤️

  56. The blog post starts by acknowledging that the instrument was saved from the (literal) fires of war by none other than Dolly Madison, and devolves into fawning praise of the LOC facilitating the piece’s debasement as a prop by an obscene, cartoonish clown. The only thing “historic” about this event is how well it illustrates our culture’s rapid devolution, with the gleeful participation of those entrusted to be our history’s custodians. Gross in every direction.

  57. I had no knowledge of these types of flutes or that we had a library of rare or passed down instruments! Thanks Lizzo for showcasing some forgotten history.

  58. As a musician and music teacher this is a great way to bring our countries history into our schools music rooms!
    I would love to see these historical instruments used in a big concert with a historical explanation video.

  59. Hey Joshua – no one likes a hater.
    Oh – hey Christopher – she didn’t mess anything up – the flute is unable to produce those notes… so check yourself.
    Thank you, LOC & Lizzo both for exposing us all to the story of the flute (I know I, a band geek, had never heard it before) and at the same time making new barrier-busting history!

  60. Powerful connection made with the past. Thank you, Carla Hayden and Lizzo!!!

  61. I never knew you had the largest collection of flutes globally… THANK YOU for sharing the collection and the crystal flute with Lizzo. While I am not a fan of her music, she is an accomplished flautist and I love what she has done to show the importance of music. I love that the flutes are being played and not sitting in a drawer. Thank you!

  62. its crystal and so cool!!!!!

  63. I love that you invited Lizzo to play the Madison flute and other flutes in the Miller Collection. Which crystal flute did she use for Carnival of Venice? I know it’s not the Madison flute because I can see the Boehm system keys. Also, why say that no one has ever played it? Carol Kniebusch Noe and Rob Turner are both flutists who have performed concerts on the Madison flute. I don’t want to take away from Lizzo’s moment, I love all the attention these historical flutes have received.

  64. Regardless of your biases, Lizzo did a great service to music and America. How many millions of young people now have heard for the first time the sound of a flute and a flute playing classical music? I’m a professional musician and she is obviously a well-studied flautist. LoC please list the name of the piece she played and have more events like this!

  65. Boss!! The night I saw her playing that on Inside Edition, I dreamed that I was in Dan Hicks’ band, and my two instruments were the flute and saxophone. (Neither of which I play.)
    Funny thing, his band was made up primarily of guitar, bass, and violin.

  66. This is so amazing LOC! I hope you’ll intentionally cross paths with more black creatives interested in American history in the near future.

  67. What a fun moment! Poor Joshua, Christopher, JT and Jared. A prehistoric version of The Squad, only without foresight or a sense of humor. Thank goodness they are dying out, not a moment too soon.

  68. She seemed genuinely interested in her demeanor and requests with the history of the instrument and James Madison.

  69. Ms. Carla Hayden you are the best!! This is the greatest connection of what the Library of Congress has to offer and artists of today that I have seen to date. I love it! You, Ms. Hayden, are a fearless leader and Lizzo you are a fearless performer! Thank you for this wonderful moment in history. I applaud you both!!

  70. What an exciting moment! Thank you for sharing.

  71. Thank you Carla, The LoC, and Lizzo! I love everything about this-sharing history, connecting that history with the modern, sharing music and culture, and bringing ‘dusty’ things into the light for all to enjoy. Our history, culture, and artefacts are for all to learn from, about, and enjoy, and our culture is always growing and changing. This event might very well be the thing that sparks a love of history and music for a child today. Also, the fact that Lizzo is able to show something beautiful and interesting and own the moment as a person of color while using an artefact from a pro-slavery president, is quite profound. Lizzo, you are an inspiration to girls and women everywhere. I am a librarian, and seeing a collaboration like this brings me such joy and hope. Thanks again!

  72. This made my day!!! Love Lizzo. Kudos Carla for getting Lizzo to the library to check out the flute collection through a tweet.

  73. I am so glad you made the trip to show others the secrets they miss at the LOC. History at your fingertips with music that inspires many to this day. I hope they follow and give it a chance. Go to the blog, library catalog, maps,
    Photos, online manuscripts, historic recordings. Plan a trip or visit online. If your in the area checkout the events. Great performance.

  74. Love this collaboration! Lizzo and the Library! Love Love Love it!

  75. She looks gorgeous here, and I love the symbolism of the moment. But when she played it at that concert it was cheap and atrocious….vulgar in the extreme. How dare she cheapen this treasure, that was rescued at the last possible minute? Her comments, “B*tch, I just tweaked and played Madison’s flute” were disgraceful.

  76. Yess this was super cool, u the goat for this collab please bring out some more of those timeless artifacts. History is only not cool it’s the

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