Lizzo Played a 200-Year-Old Glass Flute Given to James Madison

The Library of Congress invited the musician, a classically trained flutist, to play the instrument at her concert this week

Lizzo plays President James Madison’s flute
Lizzo plays President James Madison’s flute at the Library of Congress Photo by Shawn Miller / Library of Congress

The Twitterverse works in mysterious ways—and earlier this week, it brought together superstar Lizzo and the Library of Congress to showcase a 200-year-old flute, which the artist played to a packed stadium in Washington, D.C. as part of her North American tour promoting her recent album Special.

The antique crystal flute belonged to President James Madison, and was likely rescued by Dolley Madison when British soldiers set the White House on fire during the War of 1812.

According to a blog post from the Library of Congress’ April Slayton, the one-of-a-kind instrument was crafted in 1813 by French flute designer Claude Laurent for Madison in honor of his second inauguration. Laurent first patented his crystal flute design in 1806 in Paris; in the early 1800s, it was sought after by royalty, dignitaries and emperors alike. Today, this particular instrument is one of over 1,700 flutes included in the Library of Congress’ collection, the largest in the world.

The story begins with a well-timed tweet: Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden noticed that Lizzo would be playing a show in D.C. Knowing Lizzo is a classically trained flutist, she reached out publicly with an invitation to stop by the Library of Congress to tour its impressive flute collection. “Like your song they are ‘Good as hell,’ she wrote of the instruments.

Lizzo responded on Twitter the next day: “IM COMING CARLA! AND IM PLAYIN THAT CRYSTAL FLUTE!!!!!”

Before her concert, she privately toured the collection and tried out several unique, historically significant flutes—and even performed briefly in the library’s Reading Room for the lucky researchers who happened to be working there that day. 

On Tuesday night, police escorted Madison’s crystal flute to the stage at Capital One Arena.

“It’s like playing out of a wine glass,” Lizzo said to the crowd while maneuvering her fingers into place on the instrument.

The star then played a few notes, throwing in some of her signature twerking near the end.

“I just twerked and played James Madison’s flute from the 1800s!” Lizzo shouted to the cheering crowd, after handing the flute back to a library representative. “Thank you to the Library of Congress for preserving our history and making history cool. History is freaking cool, you guys!”

The saga ended later that night when officials confirmed that the flute had been returned, safe and sound, to the library’s archives.

“It’s not often you see founding father’s personal artifacts reclaimed as a symbol of pop culture and a celebration [of] Black female empowerment,” concertgoer Carrie Arnold tells NPR’s Rachel Treisman. “It was so uniquely a moment that could only happen in D.C. and ... the audience took pride in that.”

As the Library of Congress wrote in its blog post, “For your friendly national library, this was a perfect moment to show a new generation how we preserve the country’s rich cultural heritage.”