Entertainment Lawyer/Manager, Elva Mason talks about Growing up in Charlottesville, Her ties to Vinegar Hill and Giving Back

by Sarad Davenport

Elva Mason is a native of Charlottesville, whose mother grew up on Vinegar Hill. She is a UVA undergraduate and Law grad, and an attorney/manager  to high-profile clients in the entertainment/media industry. 

For attorney/manager Elva Mason, home has always been where community, faith, and family are. Raised in Charlottesville, and attending elementary school at Jefferson Elementary School, much of what she knows and understands today has been inspired by her upbringing there and in the larger Charlottesville community. From church to school, she recounts a childhood experience that, although having taken place at times of deep racial tension, provided her with a connection to her town, family, neighbors and led her to represent many high-profile clients and artists in the entertainment industry.

Elva represents arts and entertainment folks far and wide. She has worked with and continues to work with several members of Latin artist Marc Anthony’s band and including his music director and road manager. According to Ms. Elva, “I have probably worked with half of his band members.”  She also represents and has worked with Carlos Santana’s former trumpeter, Bill Ortiz, his bass player and music director Benny Rietveld, jazz great Ahmad Jamal,  and a Stu Gartner who composed the theme song for the “Cosby Show”, “A Different World”, “Living Single”. She has worked with Stu on many projects, including “The Little Bill Show” on Nickelodeon.  

Ms. Elva has a strong commitment to working on issues of mental health in communities of color and represents and has been the longtime manager of Dr. Jeff Gardere, “America’s Psychologist”  who appears regularly on national television and radio as well as on many television shows on Bravo , E, TV One, BET, VH1, and others.

Elva and Marc Anthony

Figuring It Out
Equipped with a law degree from UVA and no ‘blueprint’ on how to make it as a lawyer in the entertainment industry, she credits much of her success to being in the right places at the right time and maintaining a consistent practice of being able to simply figure things out.

On moving to Washington, D.C. right after receiving her B.A degree in Government and French, Ms. Elva said, “I graduated from UVA on a Sunday. I had already gotten a job in D.C. at the World Bank.  I packed my bags and my parents moved me to D.C. a week later.” She went on, “It was certainly a lot of figuring it out, figuring it out on my own”. She went on to work at a major law firm in D.C., Arnold & Porter prior to returning to UVA to attend law school.

At the beginning of her career as an attorney, Elva admits she didn’t see herself becoming an entertainment lawyer, and certainly not a manager. “I thought I’d just do litigation and corporate law.” Through connections, experiences, and seeds planted, however, it was her exposure to what the industry had to offer that ultimately led Elva to consider work as an entertainment attorney.

“When I was living and working in northern Virginia, the firm where I worked encouraged us to do pro-bono work. I thought it would be cool to do something in entertainment law. I also thought it would be a way to get my feet wet.”

Elva decided to do her pro bono work with Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts and started by offering her pro bono services to young music performers and producers in the DMV area, eventually seeking to grow her connections and network.

Despite being told she’d need to move to Los Angeles or New York in order to be successful as an entertainment lawyer, Elva saw potential in working from Virginia and expanding her reach through new and existing connections.

Many of her clients found her stance of not moving to the big cities to do business refreshing, and they would be the ones to introduce her to her next connections. Much of that success has been because of word of mouth and people telling others about the positive experiences they have had with Elva.  

Origins of Success
But where did this success come from? For her, it greatly relates to her identity and character, much of which was formed during her upbringing.

Elva credits most of her character to the environment in which she grew up, citing a lovely ensemble of community members and family who have shaped who she is today. She recounts growing up in a town with a close-knit community where everyone felt safe, knew each other, and consider others as family.

Whether was through her connections to Trinity Episcopal Church, the church that she attended , or through her grandparent’s church Zion Union Baptist Church, or Jefferson Elementary School, she conveys that her Mother’s upbringing in Vinegar Hill which extended to her upbringing in Charlottesville, had a big impact on her childhood and ultimate values as a person. This became most notable for her only after she actually left her home community and was able to put it and everything else into perspective.

“Growing up, you think, especially as you get older, you can’t wait to leave your hometown, and move to the big city to do this and do that, then you realize how blessed you were to have been raised where you were. The values that were instilled in you.”

Faith and Community
As stated before, another major part of Elva’s life has been church. Faith is very much involved

in all aspects of her life, not just Sunday mornings. For her, it’s a part of daily living and the foundation upon which she finds meaning in the trials and blessings she experiences.

Elva recalls her first real spiritual awakening at Trinity Episcopal Church. Reverend Henry Mitchell and his wife Gertrude Mitchell were two of her Godparents. They were pillars in the community. ”Reverend Mitchell had this commanding presence and big voice that just resonated in that small church that was located at 10th and Grady Avenue at the time.  One verse that stuck in my mind was, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. “Matthew 11:28-30.

“I don’t know why that stuck with me about that verse at the time. It was more his voice. It wasn’t the words, but I became curious about it, so I started studying the Bible and scripture, and my faith just grew over time.”

Through a consistent devotion to learning more about her faith, Elva was able to establish a strong spiritual life, inspiring her to consider her faith in everything she does. She cites it as an intimate thing, as a comfort she can turn to when life gets tough.

A more recent picture of Elva.

Giving Back
Despite her numerous successes and the accolade-defined career she has built for herself, Elva has drawn upon her past experiences and values in moving forward through her life, with which she has expressed an interest in giving back.

Whether it’s through mentoring, representation, or random acts of kindness, Elva has been a part of numerous efforts in support of the local community and beyond.

Ms. Elva stated that, “Achieving success is a means of helping create more opportunities for others.” She went on to state, “I am a father’s advocate, and do a lot of representation of fathers on custody cases. It’s my way of giving back. People think it is an odd mix, entertainment law and family law, but it works for me.”

Moving forward, she places a particular emphasis on helping women and girls in her community, acknowledging the sensitive situations and turning points they often face, and the support they need in getting ahead in life.

“I know there are women who are struggling in Charlottesville, and I want to connect with to help them in any way that I can.”

Few people know about the greatness that emanates from Vinegar Hill. “My mother was raised on Vinegar Hill, attended church on Vinegar Hill as a child, was educated at Jefferson School and returned to teach there for many years. I spent the first four years of my education at Jefferson School. The seeds of some of the most valuable lessons of my life were planted from my experiences and the wonderful village that nurtured and protected me there.”  Fewer know about the great and powerful people who came from there. Elva Mason has made a name for herself in a big way, working with some of the biggest names in entertainment, but still considers herself a small-town girl. 

When it comes to what really matters, however, she’s clear on the notion that her community truly is where her heart is —”I feel that I was immensely blessed to have grown up in Charlottesville.”

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Vinegar Hill Magazine is a space that is designed to support and project a more inclusive social narrative, to promote entrepreneurship, and to be a beacon for art, culture, and politics in Central Virginia.

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