A singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Bob Carlisle began performing in clubs during the 1970s. He gained a reputation as a session musician in the early 1980s, doing background vocals for other recording artists and groups, including Barry Manilow, REO Speedwagon, Juice Newton, Motley Crue, and Poison. In 1984, he formed The Allies with Randy Thomas and Sam Scott. The group performed together for nine years and released six albums. He released two solo albums with Sparrow Records, Bob Carlisle in 1993 and The Hope Of A Man in 1994. He finally won national attention in 1997 with Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace), an album on Jive Records that went double platinum (two million units sold). Ironically "Butterfly Kisses" had been written as a gift for his daughter Brooke's sixteenth birthday and was a song Carlisle had never intended to record.
Carlisle jokes about Butterfly Kisses, his 1997 album with the hit song of the same name, making him an overnight sensation. The album was first released in 1996 as Shades of Grace for the Christian Contemporary market and only later garnered Grammy and Country Music Association Award nominations. "This overnight sensation," Carlisle told TV Guide, "was about 23 years in the making."
Carlisle is a strong family man, and his family origins were influential on his music. He tells a story about his seventh birthday when his dad took him to Montgomery Ward's and allowed the birthday boy to pick out anything he wanted. After giving the matter some thought, Carlisle selected a guitar. Afterwards his father let him take guitar lessons as well. This was the beginning of Carlisle's lifelong passion for music. He learned how to play guitar and read music; eventually he even learned arranging and orchestration.
His first solo album, Bob Carlisle, was released on the Sparrow label in 1993, and not much later his second Sparrow album, The Hope of a Man, came out. Carlisle was released from his Sparrow contract in 1994, and when Diadem President George King offered him a contract, Carlisle figured he had nothing to lose. At that point he changed his entire attitude toward music. "I decided to just write music out of my heart and soul," he told Audrey T. Hingley of Christian Reader, "and quit chasing musical success." That decision resulted in the successful Shades of Grace, released on Diadem in 1996. The album featured the Christian hit single "Mighty Love" and the surprise hit "Butterfly Kisses."
"Butterfly Kisses" was Carlisle's first big success as an artist. It was also the song that enabled him to cross over from Christian contemporary to pop music. Jive Records repackaged Shades of Grace for a mainstream audience in 1997 and in July of that year, Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace) went double platinum. After having been number one on the contemporary Christian charts for almost a year, "Butterfly Kisses" was a surprise hit on the Billboard charts during 1997. It remained in the number one spot on Billboard's Top 200 Album Chart for seven weeks and made its mark on pop and country charts as well.
"Butterfly Kisses" radio play elicited an incredible response. Two veteran radio programmers, Roger Christian of WMJQ of Buffalo, New York and Joe Hann of WRCH of Hartford, Connecticut, each with over 20 years' radio experience, noted that the demand for the song was unlike anything they had ever known. Carlisle's album sales were fueled by his appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show and her endorsement of Butterfly Kisses.
Carlisle has received four Dove Awards and one Grammy.