By Michael Lipton
March 29, 2004 12:00 PM

In the kitchen of their five-bedroom Nashville colonial, country crooner Clint Black and his wife of 12 years, actress Lisa Hartman Black, are bantering like, well, an old married couple. The topic of conversation: the August night four years ago when they discovered Lisa was pregnant. The Blacks were performing at the Greek Theatre in L.A. “And we’re up there singing [their duet ‘When I Said I Do’],” says Clint, “and we know we’ve got this wonderful secret.”

“No, I didn’t know then,” Lisa, 47, corrects him.

“Yes you did,” Clint, 42, insists.

“No, I told you that I thought I was pregnant, and I was pretty sure,” Lisa says. “Think about it, ’cause I couldn’t wait to get home and take a pregnancy test.”

After a moment’s reflection, her husband agrees: “That’s what it was.”

Small details aside, it’s not like Black to miss a thing when it comes to daughter Lily Pearl, who will celebrate her third birthday May 8, or to his wife. “He’s very sweet toward Lisa, very thoughtful,” says Kenny Loggins, Black’s friend and occasional songwriting partner. “We’ll be writing for about three hours, and in the middle of it he’ll pick up the phone and check in on her, see how she’s doing. That’s one of the things most impressive about him: how he can be so focused on his career and at the same time so awake to the people around him.”

In fact, Black, who has charted 9 platinum albums and 13 No. 1 singles since his 1989 debut album, Killin’ Time, put his recording plans on hold after Lisa got pregnant. “I really wanted to focus on being a dad,” says Black. Not that he was keeping a completely low profile: In addition to helping start a new label, Equity Records, Black served as a mentor to the contestants on the TV talent show Nashville Star last year, and produced winner Buddy Jewell’s chart-topping album. He returned to the studio shortly after Lily’s birth in ’01 and finally released Spend My Time earlier this month.

Even before Lily was born, family always came first. When he was home from the road, Clint attended every doctor’s appointment with his wife. But “the hardest part for me was that he was traveling,” says Lisa, then living in L.A. with Clint. “Not a whole lot, but when he would travel, I couldn’t. We wanted to be smart and safe.” Six weeks before her due date, the couple had a scare when Lisa went into preterm labor. Her doctor prescribed bed rest along with a labor-inhibiting drug that Clint had to inject in Lisa’s leg every three days. “I remember he started to do it and I go, ‘No, wait, wait!’ ” she says with a laugh. “But he did great. Every time.” Though the rest of the pregnancy went smoothly, Lily Pearl was delivered by emergency C-section after 11 hours of labor—and Clint recorded every moment on three cameras. There was even a soundtrack. Just as his daughter emerged, Clint’s song “Little Pearl” began playing on a special CD in the background.

A typical day for the Blacks (who moved to Nashville in 2002) starts with mother and daughter heading off to Lily’s music or gym classes. “But Clint goes every now and then,” says Lisa. “They have Lily and Daddy days. He’ll take her to lunch. We all like to go out to dinner. Then it’s her bedtime at 10. She sleeps until 9 in the morning.”

The former Knots Landing vixen, who last starred in a 1998 TV movie, has postponed her return to acting. Lily Pearl “is going to be our only one, and I just really don’t want to miss stuff,” says her mom. Neither does her dad. “She’ll get on the phone and talk to me and she’ll say, ‘Are you in Baltimore, Daddy?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yes. Remember I’m going to be singing for some people here?’ She says, ‘Yes. Are you coming home?’ I say, ‘I’m coming home tomorrow.’ And she’ll say, ‘Okay.’ So it’s getting easier now, her being able to understand,” he says, “that I didn’t just go off somewhere in the woods.”

Michael Lipton. Lorna Grisby in Nashville