How Heather Lowery Created A Movement With Femme It Forward: ‘More Impact, More Inspiration, More Opportunities’ (Women Of Live Cover Honoree)
Heather Lowery, President/CEO of Femme It Forward
and Founder of Next Gem Femme.
Photo by Laetitia Rumford

Visionary. Go-getter. A force to be reckoned with. Heather Lowery is all this and more — her career is an extraordinary example of the power of intuition, an ability to adapt, a brilliant mind and a heart for helping others.

Years before she charted her course in the live industry that eventually led her to become the President and CEO of Femme It Forward and founder of Next Gem Femme, she was pursuing a career in entertainment law by interning in the legal departments of LaFace Records and Fox Television Stations while studying at Atlanta’s Spelman College.

When she got to her senior year in college she realized that music and entertainment, rather than law, was her true calling. And so she moved back to her mom’s house in Delaware as she plotted her future, explaining, “I felt like a failure, because here I am, a college graduate at one of the top HBCU institutions in the country and I didn’t have a job.”

She adds, “I remember my mom had a dream that I was sitting on the mantle of our fireplace and everything that I touched turned to gold. So after that she started calling me Heather Gold, which is ironic because my first job in entertainment was at the recording studio in Philly, which was owned by Larry Gold. A lot of people think that the gold has something to do with Larry, but it doesn’t — my mom actually started calling me Heather Gold. She knew I would be successful.”

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Heather Lowery is pictured at a Rap Caviar show in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 1, 2018, at a venue now known as Skyla Credit Union Amphitheatre.
Photo courtesy Heather Lowery

Throughout her career, as Lowery has held roles in sectors including the recording side, management, agenting and event production, a few things remained constant including Lowery’s passion and ability to tune into her gut instinct to determine her next move.

Lowery had friends who recorded at Gold’s studio (simply called The Studio) and they introduced her to the owner. Though he didn’t have any jobs available, Lowery said she’d do anything, even offering to sweep the floors. She recalls, “I just knew if I got my foot in the door that he would see the value that I could bring to his business. … So he let me in. It was just a couple days a week part time and then it became five days a week, then 12 hours a day. And by the time I left [after two years] I was running that place [as the general manager]. I was so passionate to just learn and grow and build something.”

During her time at the studio, which was home to The Roots and “all the neo-soul artists from Philadelphia,” Lowery attended a lot of shows, including Erykah Badu. That left an impression on her, with Lowery saying “the live experience … whoa, it really changed my life.”

After managing music producers for about three months (though she loved the producers, she says with a laugh that she “absolutely hated” the job), Lowery did some soul-searching and determined she wanted to be a booking agent. She joined William Morris in 2004 and ended up eventually getting on Cara Lewis’ desk (see page 34 for Lewis’ Hall Of Fame profile).

Reflecting on the experience of working as an assistant after running The Studio, Lowery says, “I always tell young girls sometimes you gotta take a few steps down to get back up. I had to start all over and be an assistant in order to learn and grow and evolve. I always tell them not to be afraid if they have to pivot and make those moves.”

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Cardi B and Heather Lowery are pictured at one of the very first Femme It Forward concerts in 2019.
Photo courtesy Heather Lowery

As for going to work for Lewis, Lowery says that was a “whole education” in itself: “She was the biggest agent in urban music and she was killing it. And so a lot of what I know today, I learned from Cara. I definitely want to give Cara her flowers because she gave me my first opportunity in the live music business. I would not be here if it was not for Cara.”

Not seeing an opportunity for growth at William Morris, Lowery left and freelanced for Skor Management, handling the bookings for all the artists they represented — which gave her the idea to start her own agency. Lowery offered to take half commission if her former boss Dorsey James allowed her to utilize his clients and thus she launched Agency For Artists in 2005.

During her 12 years running Agency For Artists, Lowery taught herself to run a business while working with huge artists including T-Pain, Gucci Mane and Trey Songz. Highlights from that time include booking one of SZA’s first college shows and a three-night run by Prince at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, in 2013.

Lowery recalls that one of the challenges was that people assumed she worked for someone else. She adds, “So I just kind of went along with it. I pretended that I worked for a white man because that’s how I would get more business. [People thought it] just wasn’t possible for this little Black girl to have her own agency, so I pretended — and that was tough for me.”

Every year she made more money but the company wasn’t growing — and so after Shawn Gee, president of Live Nation Urban, asked her to become part of his team in 2017, she accepted.

While at Live Nation Urban, where she served as the Vice President of Talent & Touring, helping build successful festivals and platforms for artists in hip-hop, R&B and gospel, Lowery had an “aha moment” when she was asked what she was doing to support women.

“I didn’t have an answer — and that bothered me. So Femme It Forward came about because I wanted to do something to support women. I wanted to put more women on stage. I didn’t want all-female lineups to be a novelty. I wanted it to be a norm and it kind of happened. It is a normal thing now … I wouldn’t give myself all the credit. But yes, I definitely started a movement with Femme It Forward. … We booked all-women concerts and we sold out shows and still are.”

Femme It Forward launched in April 2019 as an event series with all-women lineups featuring chart-toppers including Cardi B, Jill Scott and Jorja Smith, as well as up-and-coming artists. By the end of the year, Femme It Forward had produced more than 20 shows and panels across the U.S.

“When I started Femme It Forward everything that I had ever done in my career journey made sense — all the steps, all the hurdles, all the lessons led me to that moment,” Lowery says. “And it just felt so special and so right and so empowering when I knew that this is something that I’m actually supposed to be doing.”

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Lizzo, SZA, Heather Lowery, and her son, Major Jones, pose for a photo op at the second annual Give Her FlowHERS Awards Gala in 2023. Earlier in her career Lowery booked one of SZA’s first college shows.
Photo courtesy Heather Lowery

Within a few months of launching Femme It Forward, it grew very quickly and it was clear this was bigger than just an event series — that it was a movement and a company. And so Lowery set up a meeting with Live Nation President and CEO Michael Rapino who quickly agreed to expand the platform into a joint venture.

During the pandemic, with live shows on hold, Lowery curated and helped produce the female editions of virtual battle Verzuz including Erykah Badu versus Jill Scott and Brandy versus Monica. After releasing the 2021 compilation album Big Femme Energy Vol. 1 – featuring a female writer on every song, led by an all-female team of artists, creatives and executives – Femme It Forward took the experience live with the “Big Femme Energy Live Tour” in 2022, featuring an all-female symphony orchestra, composer and conductor, along with live sets by Ambré, SAYGRACE, and Baby Rose, among other special guests.
Staying true to its mission of celebrating, educating, and empowering women in the industry, Femme It Forward introduced the Next Gem Femme mentorship program in 2021, pairing 200 young women of color mentees with leading female executives and entrepreneurs in the music, media, entertainment, technology, and social justice sectors.
The program has continued annually, with Lowery noting that 2023 was their biggest year yet in terms of demand.

“Girls are getting internships. They’re getting jobs. They’re getting lifelong sisterhood,” Lowery says. “When I walk into rooms and I meet mentees, it’s very touching that we are changing the lives of so many young women … Mentors always say that it’s mutually beneficial — mentees are being guided and led by our amazing mentors, but they’re also so inspirational to us and they’re helping us grow and evolve and become better women.”
Femme It Forward’s other initiatives include the Give Her FlowHERS Awards Gala, celebrating women in the music industry, and My Sister’s Keeper, an annual weekend in Atlanta with panels, workshops and networking.

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Heather Lowery, Victoria Marfan, and Next Gem Femme mentees are pictured at the Femme It Forward She Runs This Event, presented by Mastercard, during Grammy Weekend 2023. Photo courtesy Heather Lowery

Asked about her plans for 2024 and what she’s most excited about, Lowery says, “I always say: more impact, more inspiration, more opportunities.”

In March Femme It Forward will launch the Muse 50 list, a new mentorship program for women artists, songwriters, producers, engineers and DJs. Upcoming Femme It Forward events include a gospel concert at Brooklyn Chophouse in Times Square, featuring The Clark Sisters as part of Mary J. Blige’s Strength Of A Woman Festival.

Lowery was first named to Pollstar’s Impact 50 list in 2020 as one of “The Visionaries: Executives Who See Things Before Others Do.” The title is fitting for the CEO who describes herself as being shy and quiet as a child, who “always noticed things that other people didn’t see and asked the questions that other people didn’t think to ask.”

Though Lowery didn’t end up going into law, her time at Spelman College has stuck with her.

“Just being in Atlanta and seeing so many Black people learning and succeeding allowed me to see my reflection in them,” Lowery says. “I grew up in a small town in Delaware and I didn’t see that at all … I think it laid the foundation for me to be anything I wanted to be. It also gave me the confidence to fully walk in my power. I went to an all-female college. It’s just interesting that I’m now leading an all women’s organization. So I think that going to Spelman College foreshadowed my future as a creative executive and entrepreneur who centers culture and women in everything that I do.”

No matter what’s next, Lowery will be sure to make time for stillness, whether that’s going to the gym, journaling or learning.

“I think life is about evolution and I want to make sure that I’m constantly learning, growing and evolving,” Lowery says. “So going within is my way to do that. I want to constantly become, and I want to leave here knowing that I gave everything and did everything that’s within my power to make a difference.”