The runaway hit music of Ventura’s Olivia Willhite

Her success has been thrilling and fairly sudden.

by Amy Brown

16-year-old Olivia Willhite has been surfing most of her life and has been making music since age six. This petite blonde powerhouse is a sophomore at Ventura High, and is now getting international attention for her song Runaway Man, which has over 2.5 million streams on Spotify. She recently performed her self-described beach pop music at an acoustic showcase at Bombay Bar & Grill to a packed house, along with another singer/songwriter from Ventura High, Shannon David, and the group Somatic. The event was to engage young people and up and coming local youth musicians, and to celebrate Willhite hitting (at that point) 2 million views on Spotify. Willhite started singing jazz and opera early on and had performed in two professional children’s operas by age nine. She has written more than a dozen original songs, and started the work on Runaway Man when she was in 8th grade, as a part of a year-long project called Project of Your Heart’s Desire (PHD) through Ventura Charter School.

Her success has been thrilling and fairly sudden, according to Willhite. “I had no expectations and no idea that it would become this successful at my age,” she shared. “It wasn’t really what I intended when I first put out my music, I put it out just to create–I love creating music. It’s definitely till evolving.”

Willhite was born in Honolulu, and her family moved to Ventura in 2005. She started surfing competitively in the last few years, and also competes on the Ventura High surf team, the Makos. “I love Ventura and its surfer, skater culture and I love beach music so much,” says Willhite. “Everyone here is pretty friendly and laid back and accepting. It’s kind of like the ocean, it doesn’t care what you look like or where you come from, you’re just in the water with the birds and fish and dolphins, doing your thing like they are. My mom always tells me my music makes her feel like she is on vacation—I think that is a cool compliment.”

Willhite’s mother, Rebecca Willhite, said “Watching her music climb the Spotify charts has been unreal. One day a famous Tik Tok kid posted her song and Olivia and her friends went crazy! Her songs are in 75 countries and played daily all over the world. It’s amazing!”

Willhite intends to continue making and producing her heavily Hawaiian-influenced music in a local Oak View music studio, and plans to keep exploring other genres and musical hybrids, including a possible future disco song featuring the ukulele. Asked what her future career plans might include, she replied, “Right now, my biggest goal is to make more music. I would love to make a career out of music if I could, but right now my goal is just to keep writing and creating. But, if Jack Johnson asked me to go on tour right now, I wouldn’t say no!”

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