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lizzo concert

Lizzo made history playing James Madison's crystal flute at her Washington, D.C., concert.

Imagine James Madison sitting in the White House during his second term as president. An enslaved Black servant delivers the president his dinner, which he eats by oil lamp as electricity wouldn't be installed until 19 presidents later. The War of 1812 rages. Most newspapers are still weekly, so news spreads slowly. There is no such thing as the internet, television or even radio.

Now imagine someone plops a laptop onto President Madison's desk and presses a button. On the screen—which is like nothing he has ever seen before—he watches a Black woman perform on a stage in front of thousands of people. Lights—which he's never seen—illuminate and reflect off her sequined bodysuit. She steps up to a microphone—which he's also never seen—and speaks to the 20,000 people in the audience.

Then she lifts up something Madison has seen and instantly recognizes—a crystal flute specially made for him for his second inauguration. The woman lifts the flute to her lips and plays. Madison is told this is happening approximately a mile away from where he sits, more than 200 years into the future.

Imagine him trying to process any single part of what he's witnessing.


On September 27, 2022, pop star Lizzo played President Madison's crystal flute during her concert at Capitol One arena in Washington, D.C. It was a moment filled with historic symbolism—a Black woman wielding the instrument of the president who proposed the three-fifths compromise, who was served by enslaved Black people in the White House 50 years before the Emancipation Proclamation and who was elected to that office more than 100 years before women gained the right to vote.

Like some other powerful men of his time, Madison claimed to oppose slavery on paper but nonetheless engaged in it himself. He owned and sold enslaved Black people throughout his lifetime, before, during and after his presidency, despite saying that the slave trade was "dishonorable to the National character" and referring to slavery as "evil."

It's hard to imagine how he'd truly feel about Lizzo playing his flute before a virtual audience of millions, but there's no doubt it would utterly blow Madison's mind to see this:

In the big picture of history, those time periods are tiny. Fifty years isn't even one average person's lifetime. One hundred years is just a few generations, who could all be living at the same time. Two hundred years just isn't that long ago, and look at how much has changed since then.

Here's how it happened: Carla Hayden, the first woman and the first Black person to serve as Librarian of Congress, invited Lizzo to come check out the Library of Congress' collection of more than 1,800 flutes just a few days before the concert. Lizzo enthusiastically took her up on the invitation.

Handlers brought the flute out on stage for Lizzo during her concert, and she gingerly took it and played a few notes before handing it back.

Lizzo shared two videos of the experience on Instagram, writing, "IM THE FIRST & ONLY PERSON TO PLAY THIS PRESIDENTIAL CRYSTAL FLUTE ITS LITERALLY AN HEIRLOOM— LIKE… AS A FLUTE PLAYER THIS IS ICONIC AND I WILL NEVER BE OVER IT🎶"

Lizzo continues to break barriers without apology and to show the world what gumption in action looks like.

Progress may come in fits and starts, and it may take enormous effort and it may meet fierce resistance, but look at where we are compared to where we were.

Yes, history is "freaking cool" indeed.

This article originally appeared on 04.15.19


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