Lizzo made history on Tuesday when she played a centuries-old crystal flute once belonging to former President James Madison at his concert in Washington, D.C. Now some on social media are spreading grim details of the founding father’s controversial legacy.
The video of Lizzo playing the flute has gone viral on social media after the singer tweeted a clip.
“NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD THIS FAMOUS CRYSTAL FLUTE BEFORE. NOW YOU HAVE IT. I AM THE FIRST AND ONLY PERSON TO PLAY THIS 200 YEAR OLD PRESIDENTIAL CRYSTAL FLUTE – THANK YOU @librarycongress” Lizzo wrote in a tweet, adding a heart emoji. NPR noted that the instrument has been played by at least one other person.
Although Lizzo has received rave responses from fans, the Library of Congress – who lent her the flute –tweeted that he had heard of detractors who claimed to fear for the well-being of the instrument. The library sought to reassure people that before the concert the curators had checked that the flute “can be played without damage”.
The Library of Congress also let its Twitter followers know after Lizzo’s performance that the flute had been returned.
Other celebrities have also recently appeared in public with historical artifacts.
Kim Kardashian, for example, attended this year’s Met Gala in a dress once worn by Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe. But unlike Lizzo, whose playing apparently did not damage the instrument, allegations soon mounted that the Monroe dress had suffered torn fabric and missing crystals.
Some on social media began pushing back against those who expressed concern for Madison’s flute, saying the outrage was rooted in racism. Others reminded Twitter users to refrain from romanticizing the founding fathers.
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, author of On Repentance and Reparationnoticed the importance of the Lizzo-crystal flute pairing.
“This flute belonged to slave-holding President James Madison,” Ruttenberg wrote in a Tweeter. “And now he’s being played by this beautiful, talented black woman for everyone to see.”
Tiffany C. Li, technology lawyer and MSNBC columnist, also pointed to the seriousness of the moment.
“Lizzo, a black female superstar, collaborating with Carla Hayden, the first African American and the first female Librarian of Congress, to use a flute by James Madison, the founding father behind the 3/5 Compromise and also the Library of Congress itself? The symbolism!!!” Li tweeted.
Other social media users also brought up the fact that Madison was a slaver.
“James Madison was the post-presidential Susan Collins of his time. He owned 136 slaves during his tenure,” Twitter user @HassanSayyed said. wrote. “After his last term, he advocated against slavery and its impact on society while owning 36, and not even freeing them by will upon death. PLAY THANG LIZZO!”
Another Twitter user joked that Madison would probably turn in her grave.
“Just thinking how horrified slave owner James Madison would be by this and it tickles me so much”, tweeted user @historyofjess.
Newsweek has contacted a Lizzo representative for comment.