Obituary: James A. Penn

Father, accomplished singer, iconoclast

James A. Penn, 73, died from complications of cancer on November 27, 2020, while in the company of his family.

A longtime Claremont fixture, Jim was distinguishable by his iconic handlebar mustache, sharp sense of style, and even sharper wit.

He adopted Claremont as his home in the early 1990s, and every weekend, he could be found reading the paper, drinking his coffee, and dispensing wisdom at various coffee shops around town.

In addition to a perfectly cooked breakfast, one of his greatest joys was singing. He quickly became an indispensable vocalist in the choir at Claremont United Church of Christ, the Claremont Colleges combined choir, and the Claremont Chorale. His pure tenor voice could be heard in venues not only throughout the area, but also in such storied locations as Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl and Disney Hall.

His love of theater, art songs, operatic music, beautiful suits, and deeply philosophical discussions might have seemed at odds with his longtime career as a diesel powertrain mechanic. However, he always loved being an iconoclast and upending people’s expectations of him.

He is survived by his sister, his four children, and all of their families.

A memorial scholarship supporting older students pursuing a career in choral music or voice has been established at Cal State University, Los Angeles. Contributions to the fund can be made online at Select “Other” under the “Designation” menu and enter “James A. Penn Memorial Scholarship.” Checks may also be sent to the Cal State LA Foundation, c/o Maria Magolske, University Advancement, 5151 State University Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90032. Please include “James A. Penn Memorial Scholarship” in the memo line.


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