It’s hard to be a social conservative these days, with all the trolls.
Some on the right were in turmoil last week after Lizzo “disrespected” James Madison’s flute. Or, that’s what they would like you to think.
Jenna Ellis, one of Trump’s former attorneys, said Lizzo’s performance was a “desecration, deliberate, of American history.” Matt Walsh tweeted that “Lizzo playing James Madison’s flute was a form of racial retaliation, according to the woke left. And I have no doubt that is part of the reason the Library of Congress facilitated this show. Striking the same notes, Ben Shapiro denounced the “vulgarization of American history”.
Good. Consider what actually happened. Knowing that Lizzo would be in DC for a big concert in late September, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden sent an invitation on Twitter to the Grammy-winning artist:
“The @librarycongress has the largest collection of flutes in the world with over 1,800. It includes Pres James Madison’s crystal flute from 1813. @lizzo, we’d love for you to come see it and even play a few -ones when you’re in DC next week. Like your song, they’re “Good as Hell”.
Lizzo, an accomplished flutist, responded enthusiastically and toured 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. There are clips of her performing on YouTube. Exceptional, right?
I wonder how many “conservatives” who castigate her would be able to name the excerpts she performed from Paganini’s “Carnival of Venice” and Poulenc’s flute sonata? Or if they stopped to admire his musical sense? As one classical music site noted, it wasn’t easy to play the historic instrument: “Normally she plays the modern Boehm concert flute, with cylindrical bore, in C with the tonic played with seven fingers down and extensive keywork for accidentals Laurent’s Crystal Flute is a pre-Boehm simple system instrument, tuned in D, taper bore, key played six fingers down, only a few keys. Their playing characteristics are therefore significantly different, to the point that they are not at all interchangeable.
What really sparked the downside, however, was what happened at Capital One Arena the following night, when representatives from the Library of Congress brought Madison’s flute onto the stage. Lizzo played a few notes and then performed a small wink. Now, I’m not a fan of that move, but I have to say that Lizzo’s humorous antics were quite tame compared to, say, Miley Cyrus’ version at the 2013 Video Music Awards.
But here’s the part the curators omitted from their accounts: Lizzo told thousands of fans that the flute was “a gift to James Madison from a French crystal flute designer to celebrate his second term… had 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’m the first person to play it, so you’re about to hear what it sounds like for the first time. It’s crystal. It’s like playing in a glass of wine.
After playing a few notes, she gloated that “the story is really cool, you guys!”
Yes, and her too. I don’t care about her costume choices or her twerking move, but again, it was definitely an allusion to a twerk, not the lewd kind. I love that she is so respectful of the instrument in her hands and the story it represents.
And frankly, it’s especially gratifying to see a young African-American artist embrace this story as her own, because there are Americans who don’t think it belongs to her. You can find progressives who seem to prefer African Americans to adopt a pose of permanent alienation from America because of our history of slavery and racism, and there are “conservatives” who yearn to exclude Afro -Americans of “our history” (e.g. the idiots who oppose 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 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 earned the respect of true conservatives.
Mona Charen is the editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast.
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