Lizzo Plays James Madison’s 200 Year Old Flute – The Scarlet


Pop music star Lizzo was invited to the Library of Congress on September 27 to play a crystal flute previously owned by former President James Madison.

Apart from being a world renowned musician, Lizzo is also a highly skilled classical flautist. She started playing the flute around the age of 11 and even considered studying at the Conservatoire de Paris, a music school with a 3% acceptance rate.

Lizzo’s journey to Madison’s flute began on Twitter when librarian Carla Hayden took note that Lizzo would be in Washington DC for a concert. She tweeted “The Library of Congress has the largest collection of flutes in the world with over 1,800. It includes James Madison’s crystal flute. @Lizzo we’d love for you to come see it and even play a few when you’re in DC next week. Lizzo wasted no time in letting Carla know she was interested in playing the flute, tweeting the next day “I’M COMIN CARLA!” AND I PLAY IN THIS CRYSTAL FLUTE!!!!!”

The flute in question was made by Parisian craftsman and clockmaker Claude Laurent in 1813. Laurent patented his “crystal flute” or “crystal flute” in 1806. Shortly after, Laurent’s crystal flutes gained in popularity – being held by kings, emperors, and other heads of state like Madison. About 175 of these were made in total, but Madison’s flute was made especially for him, engraved with his name and title.

Madison’s flute in particular is special among the other Laurent flutes owned by the Library of Congress. The 20 Laurent flutes belonging to the library were previously believed to be made of crystal, but it was recently discovered that 18 of the 20 flutes were actually made of glass, making Madison’s flute truly one of a kind.

Needless to say, this flute traveled quite a distance before ending up in Lizzo’s hands. However, he suffered even more hardships than meets the eye. On August 24, 1814, Dolly Madison (James Madison’s wife) was fleeing the White House just before British troops burned Washington DC during the War of 1812. With her, she managed to save a myriad of treasured heirlooms and of White House relics, including Madison’s crystal flute. If not for the valiant efforts of the former First Lady to save these artifacts, we would be left without Laurent’s beautiful instrument. In fact, Dolly Madison was saved from what is now one of the most iconic portraits of george washington also in his flight.

All this to say that there has been quite an effort to preserve this one-of-a-kind flute that seems to have made its way into Lizzo’s hands 209 years later. But, whatever its history, what makes this flute so special? Why the preservation effort? And why would Lizzo want to play a crystal flute when most flutes of the time were made of ivory or wood?

Because the flute is constructed of crystal, it does not expand and contract with changes in humidity like its wooden or ivory counterparts do. This allows the flute to hold its pitch and tone much better. While most flutes today are made of metal and therefore don’t have to worry about humidity either, this was certainly not the case in 1814 when Laurent’s crystal flute was made. It was a technical feat at the time.

Fast forward to the present day, Lizzo being held at the Library of Congress. It seems that the flute took a while to start, which is not abnormal for a 200 year old relic; they often need to be “warmed up” in some way in order to play. Also, to the knowledge of the Library of Congress, Lizzo’s playing of this crystal flute was the first time he had already been played.

Lizzo then asked Carla Hayden if she would be able to play Madison’s flute at her DC gig that week. Hayden and his team gave Lizzo an enthusiastic yes and got to work making sure the flute was able to get to the scene safely.

His concert with the Madison Flute was truly a symbolic moment. Not only has a successful black woman played the flute of the former slave plantation owner, but Carla Hayden (the woman who invited Lizzo to the Library of Congress) is the first black woman to lead the Library. of Congress.

All attendees at Lizzo’s concert in Washington DC could hear her playing the Madison Crystal Flute. Until then, the only people who had heard this flute were Lizzo, Carla Hayden and some of the other employees working at the Library of Congress. After a bit of playing (and a bit of dancing at the same time), Lizzo exclaimed to the audience “we just made history tonight!” Thanks to the Library of Congress for preserving our history and making history really cool! The story is really cool guys! Without the tireless preservation work of people like Carla Hayden, we wouldn’t have such cool historical moments like this. Lizzo is most definitely right, the story is pretty cool!

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