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What Lizzo Can Teach Conservatives About American History

Her performance on James Madison’s flute was a patriotic moment.
October 4, 2022
What Lizzo Can Teach Conservatives About American History
(Composite / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

It’s tough being a social conservative these days, what with all the trolls about.

Some right-wingers were in a lather last week after Lizzo “disrespected” James Madison’s flute. Or, that’s what they would have you think.

Jenna Ellis, one of Trump’s former lawyers, said Lizzo’s performance was a “desecration, literally of America’s history.” Matt Walsh tweeted that “Lizzo playing James Madison’s flute was a form of racial retribution, according to the woke Left. And I actually have no doubt that this is part of the reason why the Library of Congress facilitated this spectacle.” Hitting the same notes, Ben Shapiro decried the “vulgarization of American history.”

Well. Let’s consider what actually took place. Aware that Lizzo would be in D.C. for a big concert in late September, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden sent a twitter invitation to the Grammy-winning performer.

Lizzo, an accomplished flutist, responded with enthusiasm, and visited the Library of Congress, dressed in street clothes, where she tried out some of the historic instruments, including a crystal flute that once belonged to James Madison. Here is a sample of her playing. Outstanding, right?

I wonder how many of the “conservatives” lambasting Lizzo would be able to name the excerpts she performed from Paganini’s “Carnival of Venice” and Poulenc’s flute sonata? Or whether they paused to admire her musicianship? As a classical music site noted, it wasn’t easy to play the historical instrument:

Normally she plays the modern Boehm concert flute, cylindrical bore, pitched in C with the keynote played with seven fingers down and extensive keywork for the accidentals. The Laurent crystal flute is a pre-Boehm simple system instrument, pitched in D, tapered bore, keynote played with six fingers down, only a few keys. Their playing characteristics are therefore markedly different, to the point where they are not at all interchangeable.

What really set off the cons though was what happened at the Capital One Arena the following night, when representatives of the Library of Congress brought Madison’s flute onstage. Lizzo played a few notes and then executed a little winking twerk. Now, I am no fan of this move, but I must say that Lizzo’s humorous romp was utterly tame compared with, say, Miley Cyrus’s version at the 2013 VMA awards.

But here’s the part the conservatives omitted from their accounts: Lizzo told her thousands of fans that the flute was

a gift to James Madison from a French crystal flute designer to celebrate his second term. . . . There was a fire while he was away and the only two things that were saved were a portrait of George Washington [big ovation] and this crystal flute right here. [Another big ovation.] I am the first person to ever play it, so y’all about to hear what it sounds like for the first time. It’s crystal. It’s like playing out of a wine glass.”

After playing a few notes, she exulted that “History is freaking cool you guys!”

Yep, and so is she. I don’t care for Lizzo’s costume choices, or the twerk move, but again, it was really a winking allusion to a twerk, not the lewd kind. I love that she was so reverent toward the instrument in her hands and the history it represented.

And frankly, it’s especially gratifying to see a young African-American artist embrace this history as her own because there are some Americans who don’t think it belongs to her. You can find progressives who seem to prefer that African-Americans adopt a pose of permanent alienation from America due to our history of slavery and racism, and there are “conservatives” who yearn to exclude African Americans from “our history” (e.g.. the idiots who object to black characters in a fantasy drama set in a mythical middle ages).

The greatness of American history belongs to all of us, just as its sins are borne by all of us. The musical Hamilton, by casting all of the Founders with minority actors and weaving rap into the score, was a particularly unifying celebration of America. Lizzo’s performance was in that spirit and she has earned the respect of true conservatives.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is Policy Editor of The Bulwark, a nationally syndicated columnist, and host of The Bulwark’s Beg to Differ podcast. She can be reached at [email protected].