Celebrity Singer Lizzo Plays a 200-Year-Old Glass Flute Given to President James Madison

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

A 200-year-old flute was played by celebrity Lizzo as the musician performed in front of a full stadium in Washington, D.C. as part of her North American tour promoting her recent album Special. The Library of Congress has had the flute in its possession. When British troops set fire to the White House during the War of 1812, Dolley Madison is thought to have saved the antique crystal flute, which belonged to President James Madison.

An article at The Library of Congress read, “It’s About (Danged) Time: Lizzo at the Library!”

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 flautist. 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.’ ”

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.

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. Article Sourced- The Library of Congress.

 

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