May 05, 1997 12:00 PM

FOR A COUPLE OF PROFESSIONAL musicians, they did not seem to care much about cultivating harmony in their married lives. “We are opposites in many ways,” singer Janis Gill said of her relationship with her husband, country star Vince Gill, in a 1991 PEOPLE interview. “I listen to classical music, and he listens to blue-grass. He’s the most unorganized person you’ve ever seen, and I have to have it spotless. He’s laid-back, and I’m stressed out.”

For the better part of two decades, those differences seemed reconcilable. But on April 12, the couple’s 17th anniversary and Gill’s 40th birthday, Janis, 43, failed to show for a performance with her husband at the Grand Ole Opry. Four days later she filed for divorce in Williamson County, Tenn., and sought custody of their only child, daughter Jenny, 14. In a statement released on April 17 as he embarked on a concert tour in Canada, Gill, a winner of 17 Country Music Association awards, said it was “a private and personal matter. And, with all due respect, I would like to keep it that way.”

Gill was a 19-year-old bluegrass picker fresh from Norman, Okla., in 1977 when he met Janis Oliver, then 22, from Manhattan Beach, Calif. As one half of the Sweethearts of the Rodeo sisters act, she enjoyed several smash hits in the ’80s. Gill, working then as a Nashville session musician, stayed home in Franklin, Tenn., with their little one. “I was probably not a very good cheerleader,” he later admitted. By 1990, however, when Vince topped the country charts with “When I Call Your Name,” Janis’s career had stalled. “It’s nobody’s fault,” she said. “I just got my break first, that’s all.”

Now country’s reigning balladeer, Gill packed extra feeling into a rendition of his 1992 kiss-and-make-up hit “I Still Believe in You” during an emotional April 19 appearance in Ottawa. As one fan left the concert hall, she said to a companion, “Wasn’t that the saddest show you ever saw?”

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