50,000 Brits watched US music student Azeem Ward live-stream his private flute recital

The college student became the internet's favourite flautist after a Facebook event to promote his small concert went viral. Jake Alden-Falconer charts the rise of an unlikely hero
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It was meant to be for family and a few friends. So when Azeem Ward, a student at the University of California, created a Facebook event to promote his small flute concert, he had no idea he was about to send social media into a frenzy – on the other side of the Atlantic.

"The year is coming to an end soon and I will be performing my final senior recital! Please come out and show some support if you can!" he wrote online. "You will hear some beatboxing, jazz and may even see some dancing! Plus there will be some refreshments!"

The recital, he wrote, would include Devienne's Concerto No 7, Gaubert's Sonata No 3 and Roitstein's Flautas, as well as the more contemporary Three Beats for Beatbox Flute.

At first 70 or so people RSVP'd. So far, so ordinary. Then 120. On Thursday morning, news travelled to the UK and something about the geeky-looking student, shown with a flute flung over his shoulder, resonated with a particularly British brand of humour. The parodies came out in force: Azeem photoshopped into Oasis, Azeem receiving a knighthood from the Queen, a miniature Azeem clutched high in Martin Luther King's fist: "I have Azeem!"

Not everyone was sure what was going on: "Can someone please tell me who Azeem is and why everyone is attending his senior flute recital/ I don't get it," tweeted @Ssabrina , in confusion. @Toby_Millington took a hard line: "If you aren't going to Azeem's senior flute recital, I don't want to know you." And as the number of attendees spiralled from 4,000 to 44,000, to 104,000, some fans became possessive: "So many jumping on the bandwagon now he's blown up. How many of you were at the junior recital?"


Azeem himself tried to come in on the joke. "I think it's super awesome and funny," he wrote. "I originally made this event to be for approximately 100 people; of close friends and family...Thanks to all the true supporters out there. I want you to know that you're very much appreciated :)"

His good-natured responses only confirmed Azeem's status as the hero of the moment. "What is it about Azeem that you find most appealing?" users asked each other in an online poll. "He is a beacon of light in a world otherwise fraught with darkness and despair," answered some 1,400 voters. But his key appeal? "That devil-may-care flute-shoulder placement."

Like Three Beats for Beatbox Flute, nothing was going to get in the way of this groove. Hip-hop remixes of Azeem's classical flute videos emerged on YouTube with views into the hundreds of thousands; and after a Friday-night appearance on the US chat show Jimmy Kimmel Live – which garnered more airtime online than the world's most renowned flautists – the grinning student at the heart of it all had become an international sensation.

Pundits on Twitter and Reddit called it "the event of the century". Hundreds of British fans petitioned Ward to stream the event live, while one Durham student apparently travelled over specially to Santa Barbara – after being guaranteed a seat in the front row.

And so, on 16 May, the fêted recital took place. A sunny afternoon in California, a Saturday night in the UK. More than 55,000 people tuned in to stream the recital live. Screening parties were set up and across the UK students could be found crowding round laptop screens to watch the now legendary flautist enjoy his 44 minutes of fame.

What next, then, for the star of the moment? Azeem claims he is mooting a UK tour, but for now he is trying to transform the attention he got into something tangible - so he's inviting his fans to donate to the victims of the earthquake in Nepal.

So far, Azeem Ward has raised more than £5,000 – but what else would you expect from the nicest guy on the net?