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Judge fights on (in song)

Daily Pilot columnist and retired Judge James P. Gray, a fan of showtunes, also writes them – including Chapman University's fight song that debuts this fall.

July 07, 2010|By Tom Ragan, tom.ragan@latimes.com

Editor's note: This corrects an earlier version.

NEWPORT BEACH — Retired Superior Court Judge James P. Gray doesn't really know the meaning of the word retirement.

After retiring from close to three decades on the Orange County bench, instead of living the good life in Newport Beach, Gray, 65, is keeping busy with his Sunday column in the Daily Pilot and writing pick-me-up Broadway-style musicals for schools to perform.

Lately he composed the fight song for Chapman University, which will debut at the campus' homecoming football game on Oct. 23.

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On Tuesday, after a pensive half-hour interview at his Newport Beach home on topics ranging from the death penalty to government policies that seek to prohibit instead of regulate drugs and prostitution, among other things, Gray pulled out the lyrics to the fight song and started singing them.

"We excel in the classroom. We triumph in the field. We strive for excellence, to defeat we never yield," he sang, pumping his fist for emphasis in his living room, the piano a few feet away. "We are leaders in life, and to all it's clear to see: We're second to none. We're Chapman University."

His may not be as popular (yet) as the University of Notre Dame fight song, but the lyrics come from a judge and former prosecutor whose passion in life, next to meting out justice, lies in the art of song, which he picked up from his parents.

Gray loves Broadway musicals, for example. And he can't get enough of folk songs.

"I can sing any 'Peter, Paul and Mary,' song," said Gray, who is also fond of "The Mamas and the Papas."

But his latest production, aside from his weekly column in the Pilot and a new book, "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems," is a compilation of optimistic songs that can be found on a CD. Its purpose, he said, is to inspire students to think well of themselves when things are looking down and out.

Called "Americans All," some of the songs include "You gotta have style" and "Do you know their names?" — the latter being a commentary on how we know very little about the people who surround us daily, whether it's hard-working immigrants or even your next-door neighbor.

He's been distributing the songs around the nation, and just recently a high school in Hawkinsville, Ga., performed one of them after listening to his demo.

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